Skip to main content

Swayed by BJP’s focus on nationalism, issues "failed" to impress tribals in 2019 polls

Counterview Desk
In a new report, Mongabay-India, a conservation and environment news and features service, which is part of the global news platform mongabay.com, notes that while issues related to tribal communities and forest dwellers “gained public and media attention just ahead of India’s recently-concluded 2019 parliamentary elections”, these “failed to translate into electoral gains for opposition parties.”
Pointing out that out the 47 seats in the elections reserved for scheduled tribes, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party won more than half and even improved its performance from the 2014 elections, the report by Mayank Aggarwal says, “The tribal community didn’t vote as a single block and were swayed by BJP’s focus on nationalism.”

Excerpts:

Controversies and uproar around tribal issues over the past few years failed to make a dent in the recent elections with the tribal community in fact voting to reinstate the government held responsible for many of these issues. The first tenure of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government saw tribal people facing displacement from forests, debate around poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act 2006 and dilutions in the green laws hampering tribal rights.
But the issues did not show an impact in the recently concluded 2019 parliamentary elections in India where the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won more seats reserved for scheduled tribes in the 2019 elections, as compared to the 2014 elections.
Of the 543 seats in Lok Sabha, 47 parliamentary seats are reserved for candidates of the scheduled tribes and the BJP won well over half of them in these elections, despite the agitations on tribal issues preceding the elections.
In September 2018, thousands of farmers and tribal people marched to the national capital to protest against several issues including poor implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) 2006.
Subsequently, just ahead of the 2019 elections, in February 2019, the Supreme Court of India directed the state governments to evict those tribal people whose claims under the FRA 2006 had been rejected. However, the NDA government was soon cornered by opposition parties on the issue following which the government approached the SC and the eviction order was stayed.
The order could have impacted nearly two million tribal families which means 8-10 million people. The opposition parties, especially the Indian National Congress led by Rahul Gandhi, had also aggressively taken up the issue. But it didn’t bear any major electoral fruit for them.
In March 2019, the central government’s move to amend the Indian Forest Act (IFA) 1927 gained attention. The proposed amendments plan to give more powers to the forest authorities and encourage large scale afforestation but experts stressed that it could also lead to an increase in injustice to forest dwellers.
Of the 47 seats reserved for candidates from scheduled tribes, in 2019 elections, BJP won 31 seats (65.95 percent), while the Indian National Congress won only four seats. The remaining seats were won by independent leaders and regional parties such as Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party, Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Nationalist Congress Party, Shiv Sena, Naga Peoples Front, Biju Janata Dal, National Peoples Party, and Mizo National Front. In the 2014 elections, BJP had won 27 (57.44) of the 47 seats while Congress had won five of them.
In 2019 elections, BJP improved its performance in parliamentary seats reserved for scheduled tribes as compared to 2014 elections. Source: Election Commission of India.
Mongabay-India analysis of the results also shows that even in the states having a sizeable population of tribal people, BJP scored better. For instance, BJP won three of the four seats reserved for tribals in Chhattisgarh, three of the five reserved seats in Jharkhand, all six reserved seats in Madhya Pradesh, all four reserved seats in Gujarat, three of the four reserved seats in Maharashtra while one was won by its ally Shiv Sena, all three reserved seats in Rajasthan and both the reserved seats in West Bengal.
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a political analyst, explained, “We cannot look at the tribal community across India as a homogenous voting community because the tribal people in the Hindi heartland have to be delinked from those in the northeast and from those in the southern state.”
Mukhopadhyay emphasised that over the last four decades, RSS through a concerted outreach programme in the tribal seats in the north and western India, has been able to make them (tribal people) a part of the Hindutva (Hindu nationalism) constituency. RSS is the ideological parent of the BJP:
“This has played a very major role in the reserved seats in the Hindi heartland. That is why you see stalwart tribal leaders from regional parties like Shibu Soren (of the JMM) losing to the BJP. This means that regional parties which used to voice tribal concerns are no longer being looked as alternatives. For instance, see the way BJP has performed in the last several elections in Chhattisgarh. Basically, the RSS has reached out to tribal people and conducted a campaign that you are part of the larger Hindu society.”

Parties focused on tribal people failed too

It is not just the regional parties that failed to rally tribal people behind them. Even a party like Bharatiya Tribal Party, founded by a tribal leader, focusing mainly on the welfare of tribal communities failed to win even a single seat.
Chhotubhai Vasava
“Why will tribal people vote for someone who is planning to push them out of the forest which is their home? This election result is due to the manipulation of the electronic voting machines. If elections are conducted by ballot paper today the picture will change. The issues of forest dwellers and tribal people are the main issue for us and we will continue to fight for them,” Chhotubhai Amarsinh Vasava, who is the founder of the Bharatiya Tribal Party, told Mongabay-India.
BTP fought on 17 seats across constituencies in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan but failed to win any seat.

Nationalism scored over concerns of tribal people

Experts believe it was the BJP’s message of nationalism – of putting nation above everything else – which found resonance over everything else.
“The problem is that this election was fought on non-issues. Issues like displacement, mining, and implementation of forest rights did not find resonance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. In the past few years, issues of farmers, the stress in the rural sector and problems faced by tribal people got the attention but BJP was successful in changing the narrative through the issue of nationalism. So, even if a farmer is facing problems he is voting for the BJP in the name of strengthening the country. It was not an issue-based election,” Alok Shukla of the Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan told Mongabay-India.
Explaining further the reasons behind BJP’s success, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay stressed that the underlying message of the entire campaign was to put nation above all other issues.
“They were made to feel that it is the time to think for the nation and not just for the small personal demands. That is what I think has prevailed in this election,” said Mukhopadhyay.
But leaders stressed that it is not an end to their struggles for ensuring the welfare of the tribal community.
A senior Congress leader, who wished to remain anonymous, said throughout the 2019 elections they highlighted the issues of tribal people not getting justice, but it didn’t translate in support for them.
“Our party was very vocal about the problem of the tribal community. We were the ones who enacted the FRA 2006. Our party’s president Rahul Gandhi had even asked the chief ministers of Congress-led governments in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh to oppose SC’s decision and file a review petition. We will continue working on the issue,” said the Congress leader.
BTP’s founder Vasava too said that they would continue their struggle and unite tribal leaders from across India under one single platform.
“We are not giving up as no one is going to fight for the tribal people. We will take this struggle to a logical conclusion ourselves because no matter who forms the government they are not going to work for the welfare of the tribal community. Over the next few years, we will unite all tribal leaders under one platform,” Vasava stressed.

Comments

TRENDING

Why do I lend my support to voices protesting world class renovation of Gandhi Ashram?

By Martin Macwan* One would not expect an activist working on Dalit rights to join such a protest. Dalits carry unhealed trauma that Gandhi caused to Dr BR Ambedkar and the Dalit cause of effective political representation by using violent means of his own definition in the event of the Poona Pact. This apart, Gandhi’s ideas in general, which changed often, on caste were orthodox. I have nothing to add to the subject after the sharpest critique offered by Dr Ambedkar.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Inaccurate gender-relevant data 'spoiling' government policy on Covid social impact

By Simi Mehta*  The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has been different across vulnerable groups. They were hit by the pandemic at various stages, whether it was accessibility to medical treatment or financial support. The second wave witnessed human suffering at a level where one can never forget the traumatized faces of people due to the inaccessibility and unavailability of essential medical services such as hospitals beds and oxygen. The probability of the third wave has also been one of the major upcoming challenges.

Flamboyant 'demagogues' adjust politics, personality in shadow of democracy

Modi, Erdogan, Bolsonaro By Ajit Singh The terms dictators and demagogues are used interchangeably in various contexts, but there is a difference. The former rule over a totalitarian states where governments are able to exercise complete influence over every aspect of citizens’ life, whereas the latter are a "wannabe dictators" but due to the system of checks and balances they are are not fully capable to create police states.

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

2002 riots: Gujarat assembly 'misinformed' about dereliction of duty, says ex-DGP

By Rajiv Shah  Former Gujarat topcop RB Sreekumar, an IPS officer of the 1971 batch, has alleged that the Gujarat government gave “totally false information” on the floor of the State Assembly regarding the appeal he made to the Gujarat governor for the “initiation of departmental action against those responsible for culpable negligence in maintenance of public order and investigation of genocidal crimes” during the 2002 riots.

Celebrating birthday amidst image of 'coerced, submissive' India ruled by a strong leader

Pushkar Raj*  As the weeks long birthday festivity of the leadership was being rejoiced India wide, the Covid was still raging in several parts of India. The carnival was in line with the post-Covid decisions and actions of the leadership demonstrating a pursuit of personal power and glory instead of national interest in times of disease and death.

'Devastating impact': Rural workers suffer as Govt of India NREGA budget down by 34%

Counterview Desk  A civil rights group, the NREGA Sangharsh Morcha has sent a letter to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj stating that 34 per cent decrease in the fiscal budget of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGA) for year 2021-22 has added to woes on India’s rural population, already suffering from “devastating impact” of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Catholic women warn: Kerala Bishop turning Church into puppet in political games

Counterview Desk A group of Catholic women under the banner Concerned Catholic Women of India has said that they are deeply concerned over "a bishop’s controversial statement" which may threaten communal harmony in India. As many as 89 Catholic women from across India have urged the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India and its Kerala unit to take special steps to "foster peace and avoid strife."

No space for 2 lakh waste pickers in Delhi masterplan for next two decades: Study

By Our Representative  A new survey report prepared by the NGO Chintan Environmental Research and Action Group on the challenges faced by waste pickers in managing solid waste in Delhi, “Space for Waste - 2021”, has regretted that currently, there is no provision of workspace for waste workers, hence they carry out their work of segregation, repairing, and composting at different locations.