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

Impact of state repression? Kashmir's 65% people prefer independence: Cambridge study

By Rajiv Shah 
Even as the Government of India’s controversial move to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution and bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) into two union territories is not only refusing to down die but has acquired international dimensions, a recent study, published by the Cambridge University Press, has claimed “pro-independence attitudes” among that 65% of Kashmiris, warning, this sentiment worsens when the state machinery resorts “repressive violence”.

Hindus to be 'sent' to Kashmir? Despite Israeli settlements, peace eludes the region

By Anand K Sahay*
Curfew, news and communications blackout, transportation shut-down... News reports from Kashmir are worrying. So are the views relayed through the media, especially television. Old-fashioned repression seems to be consorting comfortably with expressions of concern “for our Kashmiri brethren”. We are looking at Orwell’s 1984 in the making.

Dholera 'inundated': Gujarat govt tries selling low lying area as top smart city site

Counterview Desk
Even as the Dholera Special Investment Region Regional Development Authority (DSIRDA) of the Gujarat government was busy organising a junket for Gujarat-based journalists for the area sought to be sold as an ideal special investment region (SIR) for industrialists, well-known farmers' activist Sagar Rabari has wondered why no investor has so far agreed to put in money in an area situated in Ahmedabad district along the Gulf of Khambhat.

Congress' anti-democratic laws led to Modi govt's 'Constitutional' changes: Scholars

Counterview Desk
A large number of academics* said to be belonging to several Indian and international institutions, even as taking strong exception to the Narendra Modi government's alleged move to amend the Constitution through "illegitimate" means, have taken strong exception to their colleagues in academia who we have become "all too accustomed to adopting a calculated silence in the face of such indignities."

Kashmir normal? Schoolboys, teenagers being arbitrarily picked up, detained: Report

Counterview Desk
A four-person team, consisting of Jean Drèze, well-known development economist; Kavita Krishnan, who is with the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist); Maimoona Mollah of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA); and Vimal Bhai of the National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM), back from a five-day fact-finding mission (August 9-13) from Kashmir, has said that people they spoke to “expressed their pain, anger, and sense of betrayal against the Government of India.”
In a report, “Kashmir Caged”, released along with a short eight-minute film, they said, the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, dissolution of the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), and bifurcating it into two Union Territories, is not being supported by anyone they met, except for BJP spokesperson on Kashmir affairs Ashwani Kumar Chrungoo, who claimed 46% vote share in J&K.
Excerpts from the report: When our flight landed, and the airlines staff announced that passeng…

Modi's Gujarati mind? Why govt move to 'sell-off' defence PSUs isn't in national interest

By Sandeep Pandey*
The Standing Committee on Defence, 2017-18, of the 16th Lok Sabha highlights the idea of Buy Indian-IDDM (Indigenously Designed Developed and Manufactured). The Committee expressed concern over the import content of equipments produced and developed by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), Ordnance Factories (OFs) and defence Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) because of the dependence it creates for military hardware on foreign suppliers.

Central Gujarat effluent channel 'releasing' highly polluted industrial wastewater: PM told

Counterview Desk
Senior environmentalists of the Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti (PSS), Vadodara, Rohit Prajapati and Krishnakant, in an open letter to the Prime Minister, the Gujarat chief minister, the Gujarat chief secretary, and senior Government of India and Gujarat government officials dealing with environment, pollution and climate change have said that the authorities’ response their pleas to take action against the leakages and flow of polluted wastewater from the effluent channels of Central Gujarat industrial areas has met with complete inertia.

Can't go to court with RTI information, rule Ahmedabad authorities: Kankaria accident

By Pankti Jog*
In a shocking reply to an application filed by me, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) authorities have said that the information provided under the Right to Information (RT) Act should be used in court or in a judicial process. The Act is known to be a major tool that enables citizens to seek certified copies of documents, records from any public authority of state and Central government within 30 days, as per provisions of the Act.

Quit India Movement 'betrayal' and dubious role of Hindu Mahasabha, RSS leaders

By Shamsul Islam*
After the recent guillotine of Article 370, Hindutva ideologue Ram Madhav, while celebrating the occasion stated that it was honouring of the sacrifices of Dr Shyam Prasad Mukherjee and thousands others who laid down their lives for its removal. It is to be noted that Dr Mukherjee was a cadre of RSS and was groomed into a Hindutva leader by another Hindutva icon, VD Savarkar.

Strategy for united struggle against Hindutva 'fascism': Ideological silence is 'no option'

By Dr Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
Electoral alliance and opportunism of national and regional political parties, neoliberal economic marginalisation and soft secular Hindutva line pandering to Hindu majoritarianism laid the foundation of Hindutva fascism in post-colonial India.