The Politics Of South Gujarat
By Dionne Bunsha
17 April, 2004
Vasava is one of the lucky few in Kadvali village of Bharuch, south
Gujarat. He will be able to vote during this election. Many others will
not be there on polling day. More than half of Kadvali's residents have
locked up their homes and have migrated to the cities for work. They
will be back in the monsoon to work on their farms.
"When the crop
is harvested, people sell it and spend all the money. Then, they have
to leave for the cities in search of work," says Danubhai. Subsistence
is the overriding concern in this hilly Adivasi region. But politics
here does little to address these issues. The little social development
that exists here was initiated by Christian missionaries. But their
work has diminished of late.
Over the last 15
years, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has been trying to get the largely
Christian Adivasi population here to embrace Hinduism.
"The VHP says
it is doing religious work. But if you go for any of their big meetings,
you will realise that they are political rallies. Politicians are present.
In their religious sammelans, they spread hatred about Christians and
Muslims. Even their social work is one-sided," said Raisinh Vasava
from nearby Umerkhadi.
Raisinh has run
through the entire gamut of religious outfits from the missionaries
to the VHP. He left the VHP a few years ago to join an Adivasi rights
organisation. Explaining the VHP's modus operandi, he says: "They
recruit the more educated people in the village and try to get a hold
of the community through them. They break the unity in a village."
the missionaries did a lot of work here. They built schools and community
centres. But later, they became like politicians," says Kuvarji
Vasava, whose son Mansinh runs a VHP creche here. "The Ayodhya
campaign started at a time when we were disgusted with the missionaries.
So, many of us were drawn to Hinduism." The Ram temple campaign
awakened a `Hindu' identity among people who had never even known what
an aarti was. That was when the BJP/VHP struck roots in the Adivasi
Most Adivasi areas
were Congress strongholds. But over the years, the BJP managed to establish
a hold. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the BJP won all the four reserved
Scheduled Tribe seats. "People were united during the Congress
rule. But they didn't do much. That really angered people," says
Danubhai. Even now, the Congress presence is minimal, compared to the
Sangh Parivar's active network.
In the 1980s, the
Congress had gained popularity using the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi
and Muslim) formula. Its policies were geared towards the downtrodden.
However, over the years, the BJP has cut into the Congress vote bank,
not only in Adivasi areas but also among the OBCs and Dalits.
"Yes, the BJP
has got Dalit support. But it is mainly in urban areas. That is because
the impact is largely confined to the cities. Moreover, the BJP has
many wings of the Sangh Parivar working for it. The Congress is not
as organised," says Praveen Rashtrapal, a Congress MP from Patan,
a constituency reserved for Scheduled Castes. Of the two reserved SC
seats, the BJP won one last time.
Even in the cities,
some Dalits have seen through the BJP's plan. "Because of the riots,
we voted for the BJP. But we won't make the same mistake again. They
fooled us. They were the ones who started the riots. But they made us
believe that they would save us. They have done nothing. This time,
we won't vote for them," says Mehru Vaghela, a resident of Gomtipur,
Ahmedabad's mill area. A large chunk of Dalit mill workers live here.
Most mills shut down. Many unemployed are just hanging around the streets.
Mehru used to work
in the Ramkrishna Mill earning Rs. 75 daily. The mill closed in 1986.
For many years, he was without work. Now he works in a spinning factory
for Rs. 50 a day.
"See how we
have fallen. I don't have money to shave. In every house here, people
are unemployed. Their wives have become ragpickers. They scrape together
only one meal," he says.
But many youth have
not yet seen through the BJP's game plan. "The BJP has protected
Hindus. The Congress supported Muslims," says Kanu Macwana, a local
BJP supporter. However, the older generation are still traditional Congress
Unlike in other
States, Dalits in Gujarat haven't been able to mobilise an alternative
political force. Mainly because they constitute only 7 per cent of the
population, unlike in States such as Maharashtra where they are 27 per
tend to move from one party to another because they try to get the benefits
of power. That is maybe why some of them support the BJP. However, you
can't generalise on a Dalit vote or Adivasi vote," says Ramesh
Parmar, a Dalit activist.
It is because political
parties have deflected attention from development that many voters may
not turn up to vote. Not in disgust. But simply because many villages
such as Kadvali are empty. Migrants cannot afford to vote.