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MP Elections: PM Modi & Priyanka Gandhi Engage in War of Words to Woo Tribals

BJP is desperate to win back tribal votes it lost in 2018.

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Underlining the importance of Scheduled Tribe voters in the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi and PM Narendra Modi engaged in a war of words on Thursday, 5 October.

Both Priyanka Gandhi and PM Modi addressed public gatherings commemorating the 500th birth anniversary of Gondwana queen Rani Durgawati in MP, vying for tribal votes for their respective parties. The 47 reserved ST seats and their influence in at least 80 more seats make them a crucial factor in the elections.

For BJP the declining support of tribal voters has been a major cause of concern as it lost the 2018 elections when its tally of tribal seats plummeted from 37 out of 47 in 2013 to just 16 in 2018.

Madhya Pradesh, home to one of the largest tribal populations in India, haa 46 recognised Scheduled Tribes (STs), including three particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs).

Out of the 52 districts in MP, six are predominantly inhabited by tribals, and 15 have a significant tribal population. The Bhil community constitutes the largest share, comprising about 40% of the ST population in the state, followed by the Gonds at 34%.

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Ahead of the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections, Congress campaigner Priyanka Gandhi attended a public meeting in the tribal-dominated Dhar district. Besides talking about Rani Durgawati, she hit out at the BJP over corruption, employment and inflation among other things.

Picking up on the political buzz in MP over BJP not backing CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan for the CM post in the upcoming elections, she said that Chouhan is being 'sidelined' by his own party. 

"These days (PM) Modi feels shy of even taking Shivraj's name. He has started saying vote for me. Shivraj is not going to become your CM."
Priyanka Gandhi

Priyanka also invoked the alleged scams in Madhya Pradesh during Shivraj Singh Chouhan's government and said: 

"If there can be a scam with Mother Narmada, there can be a scam in Mahakaal Lok, and when someone dares to do corruption with even the Gods, isn't it time to change them? The pot of Shishupala's atrocities is full". 

PM Modi, on the other hand, took credit on behalf of the party and the state government for constructing statues of tribal leaders and introducing tribal welfare schemes. He also accused the Congress of neglecting the tribal community. 

"The party which ran the government in the country for so many years did not give respect to tribals. Why was the contribution of tribals not recognised? BJP also got the privilege of giving the country its first female tribal President."
PM Modi

MP politics revolves around tribal voters who have been drifting away from the ruling BJP.

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After 2018 'Lesson', BJP Woos Tribals With New Announcements

PM Modi's event was held at Jabalpur, the central district of MP's Mahakoshal region where Congress gained heavily in the 2018 elections. 

In the Mahakoshal region, comprising Jabalpur, Katni, Chhindwara, Seoni, Narsinghpur, Mandla, Dindori, and Balaghat, the Congress party won 24 out of 38 assembly seats here while BJP won 13.

Among the 13 seats reserved for tribal communities, Congress won 11, with only 2 seats going to BJP. Besides this, all 3 seats reserved for scheduled castes in this region, are currently held by the Congress.

For the BJP, the loss of tribal votes in the 2018 assembly elections proved fatal as it lost power. On the other hand, the Congress' growing presence among tribals has further made matters worse for the BJP.

The ruling party under Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been making several announcements aimed at tribals for the past one year. 

In September 2021, Union Home Minister Amit Shah, as part of the BJP government's efforts to connect with tribal communities, changed the name of Chhindwara University to honour Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah, the last Gond rulers.

During the same year, CM Chouhan renamed the Patalpani railway station in Indore after Tantya Bhil, declared the establishment of a memorial for Bhima Nayak in Barwani and renamed Bhopal's Habibganj railway station in honour of Gond queen Rani Kamalapati, who was married to Gond ruler Nizam Shah.

The latest in the trend was the BJP celebrating the 500th birth anniversary of Gond queen Rani Durgavati.  

Congress too hasn't shied away from courting tribal voters as it raised the issue of atrocities against Adivasis. Former CM Kamal Nath's pocket burrough Chhindwara happens to be tribal-dominated Chhindwara.

Although the Congress seems to have an edge in the upcoming elections amidst BJP's internal tussle and strong anti-incumbency against CM Chouhan, the parties are going the extra mile to secure tribal votes.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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