The tribal vote in Madhya Pradesh is crucial in any election.
The BJP’s loss in the 2018 assembly election has prompted it to take remedial action.
With just about eight months left for the assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party is firming up its strategy.
The BJP has still not recovered from the shock of losing the tribal-dominated seats in 2018.
What is adding to its worries is the fact that tribal-dominated Barwani, Dhar, and Alirajpur districts (Malwa-Nimar region) are considered strongholds of the Jai Yuva Adivasi Sangathan (JAYS). This organisation supported the Congress in 2018.
To woo the tribals once again, the BJP is now pinning hopes on the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act and PESA coordinators.
The Act aims to ensure self-governance via traditional gram sabhas in scheduled areas dominated by tribal communities.
With the help of these coordinators, it wants to kill two birds with one stone.
Opposition parties allege that people associated with the ruling party have been recruited so that they can support the BJP. The Congress says instead of doing the assigned work they will campaign for the ruling party.
The matter was first disclosed by Vyapam whistleblower and activist Anand Rai.
He put the information on his social media account, and one by one shared the background of the coordinators appointed in several districts along with their pictures.
According to Rai, most of them are associated with government-backed organisations.
In Jhabua district, the district coordinator and all the six block coordinators are from the same organisation, said Rai.
“Applications were invited through the Centre for Entrepreneurship Development, Madhya Pradesh (CEDMAP), through which appointments were to be made on contract.
Applications were taken, and a merit list was prepared.
The people involved waited for the further process, but in the meanwhile, a contract was signed with a private agency to outsource the appointment of the coordinators,” Rai told Business Standard.
Rai has alleged this is a scam in which an official close to the chief minister is involved.
The process was cancelled after collecting crores of rupees as fees from around 40,000 applicants.
“The district coordinator will be given an honorarium of Rs 40,000 and the block coordinator will be paid Rs 25,000 per month. An uproar has rightly started after the names of the people selected in the appointments became public,” he said.
JAYS National Patron and Congress MLA Hiralal Alawa said the BJP had cheated tribal and unemployed youths.
He said the recruitment scam of PESA coordinators in 89 tribal blocks would be raised in the Assembly as well.
Describing these allegations as baseless, state BJP Spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi said: “Every recruitment in the state, be it on roll or outsourced, is done in accordance with the rules. If the Opposition sees people of the BJP and RSS everywhere, then the fault lies in their vision.”
Former chief minister and senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh wrote to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan: ‘On February 8, CEDMAP had issued a notice to recall the interviews of about 900 candidates selected for the said posts. I have been told that the people of the subsidiary organiSation associated with your party are being appointed on these posts without interview.’
Singh has demanded the matter should be investigated by a special task force.
Both the BJP and Congress have increased the focus on the 84 seats where tribal voters can influence the election outcome.
Of these, 47 seats are reserved for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
In 2018, the BJP had won 34 of the 84 seats whereas, in 2013, it had scooped up 59.
Thus in 2018, 25 seats went out of its kitty.
Now the government is trying to bring the tribal base back to the BJP fold.
This is the reason soon after coming to power again in March 2020, the BJP started wooing the tribals.
It organised several events one after the other.
To start with, it started celebrating Tribal Pride Day in honour of Birsa Munda, the tribal leader of Chhota Nagpur in the late 19th century.
Then it renamed facilities after tribal heroes.
Bhopal’s Habibganj railway station was renamed after Gond queen Rani Kamalapati.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah attended the sacrifice day event in memory of tribal Raja Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah.
JAYS, which has a strong support base among the tribals, has kept both the BJP and the Congress worried.
It supported the Congress in the last elections, but has not opened its cards yet.
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