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Lok Sabha elections 2019: Congress, BJP vie for tribal votes in Madhya Pradesh

From Shahdol to Ratlam 800 km away, the six seats reserved for tribals in the state are spread across Madhya Pradesh. The two constituencies in the state’s eastern and western parts are also a world apart in terms of topography, dialects etc. But the problems tribals face across Madhya Pradesh remain the same.

“The tribals face the same problems, be it the Gonds in Mandla and Shahdol or the Bhils in Jhabua-Alirajpur. Most tribals, who account for 21% of the state’s population, remain poorly educated and desperately poor. They depend on agriculture and have to migrate to sustain themselves. Most do not have access to proper health facilities,” said Aneesh Thillenkery of the Ekta Parishad, an organisation that says it has been fighting for the tribal rights. There appears to be little resonance of the real tribal issues in the election campaign for the ongoing national polls. The BJP’s campaign in Khargone, Dhar and Ratlam, the remaining three tribal seats that would go to the polls on Sunday, has focused on nationalism and the Centre’s welfare measures and ruling Congress alleged failure in implementing its loan waiver promise.

The Congress has been banking on the welfare measures the party claims to have delivered for the tribals over the years apart from its loan waiver scheme for the farmers. It has also made the electoral pledge of ensuring a minimum guaranteed annual income of Rs 72,000 for the country’s poorest 20% a key election issue.

Kantilal Bhuria, who is the Congress’s candidate for the Ratlam seat, insisted his party has done everything for the tribals. He said they brought the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act in 2006 and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act to stop migrations. “…but most importantly we gave dignity to the tribals,’’ said Bhuria, a former Union minister

Bhuria accused the BJP of trying to destroy the tribal culture. “The Congress wants us [tribals] to progress while retaining our culture.” Faggan Singh Kulaste, the BJP’s candidate from Mandla, said Prime Minister Narendra Modi talks about respect for tribals. “It is there in our [BJP] manifesto. But we are also stressing on nationalism and security.”

He added the BJP government’s record in implementing the forest rights law is the best in the country. “Of the 6.17 lakh requests for title deeds, nearly 2.49 have been given… 1.10 lakh are being reviewed. No one has been evicted,” Kulaste said. He acknowledged the health facilities across the tribal belt remained poor and that the BJP has failed to gain the total confidence of the tribals. “That is why we were voted out,” he said, referring to the BJP’s poor performance in the tribal belt in the 2018 assembly polls.

First Published:
May 18, 2019 09:13 IST

Source: HindustanTimes