Cong has something to cheer about in the tribal belt of MP

Bhopal: The first list of Congress candidates for the Madhya Pradesh Assembly polls, released on November 3, had 155 names and one surprise. The party has decided to field Dr Heeralal Alawa, chief of the Jai Adivasi Yuva Sangathan (JAYS) from the Manawar constituency of Dhar district. Bringing Dr Alawa on board is a major coup for the Congress.

Dr Alawa, 35, quit his job as assistant professor of rheumatology at the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, some years ago and shifted base to Kukshi, his hometown in Dhar district. He founded JAYS, which first came into the limelight when its candidates made a sweep of the college students’ union polls in tribal-dominated Dhar, Jhabua, Alirajpur and Barwani districts.

From July, it started taking out rallies in tribal-dominated areas, which drew a huge response, forcing both the BJP and the Congress to sit up and take notice. JAYS, clearly, had emerged as a force to reckon with in the state’s 22 tribal constituencies of the Malwa-Nimar region. The Congress could win only five of them last time.

Alliance talks came to naught

A desperate Congress tried to strike an alliance with JAYS, but the talks broke down as the tribal outfit demanded the Kukshi seat for itself. It was won by the Congress in the last polls. Subsequently, Alawa declared that JAYS would go it alone in the state and contest all the 47 constituencies reserved for tribals, besides 30 others which have a sizeable tribal presence. How the Congress persuaded Alawa to jump onto its bandwagon is difficult to guess, but it is certain that it will boost the party’s morale tremendously in the Malwa-Nimar region, where it could win only nine of the 66 seats in 2013. Alawa will now contest from Manawar, which BJP won last time.

Some JAYS members have accused Alawa of “stabbing tribals in the back”. One founder-member said the JAYS constitution provides that, if any member contests on the ticket of another party, his membership will be cancelled.

Biggest tribal population in India

  • Madhya Pradesh is home to 1.53 crore tribals (2011 Census) and has the biggest tribal population among all the states in the country. Maharashtra comes a distant second, with 1.05 lakh tribals, followed by Odisha (95 lakh). About 13 per cent of India’s total tribal population live in Madhya Pradesh.
  • Tribals form 21.1% of MP’s population. In six districts of the state, tribals form over half the population. Alirajpur tops the list, with 89% tribal residents. Next comes Jhabua (87%), followed by Barwani (70%), Dindori (64%) and Mandla (58%).
  • Forty-seven of the 230 Assembly constituencies and six of the 29 LS constituencies in MP are reserved for tribals. In the 2014 LS polls, the BJP won all 6 ST LS seats. But, in the 2015 bypoll held after the death of sitting MP Dileep Singh Bhuria, Cong’s Kantilal Bhuria won the seat.
  • Among 47 ST Assembly constituencies, in 2013, the BJP won 32, the Congress 14 and an Independent one.

Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad

  • In days of yore, tribals strongly backed the Congress, but, gradually, the RSS and its affiliate, the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, started making inroads into the state’s tribal areas. The saffron brotherhood, however, prefers to call the tribals ‘Vanvasi’ (forest-dwellers) rather than ‘Adivasi’ (original inhabitants).
  • Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram launched a drive to ‘Hindu-ise’ tribals, replacing their gods with Rama and Hanuman and their places of worship with temples. ‘Samajik Kumbhs’ were held in tribal areas, where they were initiated in the Ramayana, the Gita and other scriptures.
  • The Congress was keen to strike an alliance with JAYS as, in 2003, another tribal outfit, the Gondawana Ganatantra Party, had walked away with almost five per cent of the votes, leading to the Congress losing a major chunk of the seats.
  • With Dr Alawa, the moving spirit behind JAYS, under its belt, the Congress, obviously, can breathe easy.