With AAP weakening, Congress claws back into Gujarat’s tribal belt
Grand old party has been holding public meetings in rural and tribal areas, and absorbing leaders from AAP
Nine months after the Congress posted its worst showing in Gujarat’s tribal areas, the party is beginning to regain its foothold in a region which was once seen as its stronghold.
Since the announcement of the party’s mass outreach programme across the state in a bid to take back its vote bank, multiple leaders including Gujarat Congress chief Shaktisinh Gohil have been spending time in the tribal areas.
The Congress has been holding several public meetings and focusing on rural and tribal region since June this year.
The party workers and local leaders have been asked to hold ‘Khatla Parishads’ (door to door meetings), a term coined by former Gujarat chief minister and veteran Congress leader Madhavsinh Solanki in the 1970s.
Also, senior Congress leaders are addressing public concerns through a series of public meetings – Jan ki Baat (People’s Voice) and Jan Manch (Public Platform) across Gujarat.
Congress in race
Sociologist and political analyst Gourang Jani, who is based in Ahmedabad, said the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) should not be complacent about the Congress ahead of the 2024 general elections.
“They are working silently in rural areas, especially in the tribal districts. The party, it seems, has decided to go back to its winning formula devised by Madhavsinh Solanki in the 1970s. After a series of unsuccessful experiments with wooing Patels, the Congress is mobilizing its vote bank on the basis of caste arithmetic of KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim),” he said.
Since the election debacle in December, the Congress has been giving prominence to its tribal MLA Anant Patel and Dalit MLA Jignesh Mevani who have been touring the tribal-dominated South and Central Gujarat.
Kshatriya leader Indravijaysinh Gohil, who was appointed working president in July this year, has also been holding public gatherings along with Gujarat Congress chief Shaktisinh Gohil. The latter has been meeting leaders from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) since the party has been facing flak from its own tribal leaders over the issue of Uniform Civil Code (UCC).
Kadir Pirzada, a Muslim leader the Congress is highlighting, is also from South Gujarat, said Jani.
AAP general strike
In July, the Congress supported a bandh called by AAP tribal MLA Chaiter Vasava in 14 tribal-dominated districts of the state demanding the resignation of Anusuiya Uikey, the Governor of Manipur, after videos of two Kuki tribal women being sexually assaulted surfaced.
As a result of the efforts of the Congress leadership in the state, tribal leaders from both from the AAP and the BJP have been joining the party.
The tribal leadership in the AAP seems to be disgruntled over the party’s stand on UCC.
The latest to quit the AAP and join the Congress is Arjun Rathva, a strong tribal leader from Chota Udaipur. He left AAP last week citing “lack of political seriousness”.
Rathva, who had been with AAP for past 10 years, recently met Shaktisinh Gohil and Jignesh Mevani along with other tribal leaders from the AAP in South Gujarat.
Rathwa is the second tribal leader in AAP to join the Congress this month. Earlier, AAP leader Bhemabhai Chaudhary resigned as vice-president of the state unit and joined the Congress with his supporters.
Both Chaudhary and Rathwa had been with the AAP since its inception in Gujarat in 2013.
The joining of the two tribal leaders comes as a significant boost for the Congress in tribal areas.
“The BJP’s policies have been against the tribals. The party had never been able to perform well in the tribal dominated seats. However, AAP’s entry in the 2022 assembly elections cut into the votes of Congress. Many leaders have realized that and have been coming back to the Congress,” said Saktisinh Gohil.
Traditionally, the tribal belt of the state has been a Congress stronghold. However, in the 2022 Assembly polls, the election arithmetic changed due to the advent of AAP in the tribal constituencies.
The Congress, which was already struggling in tribal areas due to a void in its tribal leadership, also had a falling off with Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), a party floated by veteran tribal leader Chotu Vasava, which had been a Congress ally in Gujarat in the 2017 polls.
Earlier, the BJP had poached the Congress’ three key tribal MLAs — Ashvin Kotwal from Khedbrahma in North Gujarat, Jitu Chaudhary from Kaprada in South Gujarat and two-time Congress MLA Mangal Gamit from Dang, also South Gujarat, between 2017 and 2022.
Between the AAP’s entry and a weak tribal leadership within the Congress, it benefitted the ruling BJP which won 23 out of 27 reserved seats for the first time in the electoral history of the state.
In 2017, the Congress won 15 of the 27 reserved seats, the BJP eight, the BTP two while an independent candidate bagged one constituency.
Tribals form about 14.8 percent of the electoral population in Gujarat. Apart from 27 reserved seats, there are 47 seats where the tribal population accounts for more than 10 per cent of the electorate.