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From inaugurating a museum on freedom fighter Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary in Ranchi to unveiling Habibganj railway station, which has been renamed after first Gond queen of Bhopal Rani Kamlapati, BJP is taking mega initiatives to woo the tribal community ahead of the upcoming assembly elections and 2024 Lok Sabha polls.

BJP, which had lost out to Congress in 2018 in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, both states having a sizeable tribal population, has started tribal outreach programmes through ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Divas’ on Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary on November 15.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose two tribal dominated states — Jharkhand and MP — for the event and addressed the ethnic population on the rights issues.

In his speeches in Ranchi and Bhopal, Modi not only targeted archrival Congress for ignoring the tribal community but put Birsa Munda on the same pedestal as Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and linked the ethnic community with Lord Ram.

Birsa Munda lived for the society, sacrificed his life for his culture and the country, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Monday as he inaugurated a museum in Ranchi in memory of the revered tribal freedom fighter, popularly known as ‘Dharti Aaba’. “The country has decided it will give a more meaningful and grand identity to the tribal traditions and stories of valor. For this, a historic decision has been taken — from today, every year, the country will celebrate November 15 as ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Divas’,” PM Modi said.

Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary will be observed in the same manner as Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel every year in Bhopal.

Going a step further, the Prime Minister also tried setting agenda for upcoming polls till year 2024 by saying Lord Ram’s success cannot be imagined without the ethnic population with whom he spent many years and transformed into a ‘Maryada Purushottam’.

In yet another calculated move, the Centre named Habibganj railway station after Gond queen Kamlapati, snubbing own leaders who wanted the facility to bear the name of late PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee. PM Modi while dedicating the facility to the public underlined that railways’ pride has increased after it was linked with Gondwana queen’s name.

PM Modi and CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh on November 15.

Early in September 2021, home minister Amit Shah had visited Jabalpur to mark the martyrdom of tribal king Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah who were killed by the British for raising rebellion during the First War of Independence. The event was part of ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, an annual festival organised to mark the 75th year of independence.

Incidentally, during the recent assembly bypolls, BJP pulled a meticulous strategy in Jobat assembly seat, a Congress bastion, and won it after decades. This perhaps has bolstered the BJP tribal outreach attempts especially ahead of civic polls in the state.

MP and Chhattisgarh will go to polls in 2023 and BJP is trying to make inroads into the tribal pockets. Jharkhand assembly elections, however, will take place in 2024.

According to the 2011 census, tribals account for 1.53 crore, or 21.08%, of Madhya Pradesh’s 7.26 crore population, and 47 Assembly seats in the 230-member House are reserved for Scheduled Tribes. The Congress pipped BJP in 2018 and had won 31 of the 47 ST seats.

In Chhattisgarh, Congress made sizeable gains in tribal heartland Bastar and trampled BJP in the process by winning 65 of 90 seats. ST comprises around 32% of the state’s population.

Tribal voters behaved slightly unusual when it came to electing a government at the Centre. The first tenure of the Modi government was marred with issues such as 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. Voting patterns defied these in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Despite a strong sentiment against its government in past years, BJP managed to win half of the 47 reserved seats in the Lower House in 2019.

As against 27 seats it won in 2014, the BJP improved its tribal seat tally to 31 in 2019.

According to political analysts, RSS had been working on tribal-‘vanvasi’ population for a long time but the BJP somehow failed to reach out to the community after coming to power, a shortcoming which the party is now out to correct.

As the BJP turned the tables on Congress in Jobat assembly bypoll on October 30 by making Congress leader Sulochana Rawat and her son Vishal switch sides and preferring her over other party leaders, the same experiment could be extended to states like Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh, say political experts.

Leaders like Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Jyotiraditya Scindia were seen forging a close bond with the tribal community during the recent by-polls, a ploy which the Congress resorted to for decades through Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

Aware of what the BJP is up to, Congress was also quick to hold an event on the occasion of Birsa Munda’s birth anniversary in Jabalpur on Monday.

Alleging that the tribal community is in a bad condition in MP, Nath in his address at Jabalpur questioned where CM Chouhan was in 18 years and only remembered the tribal freedom fighter today.

Only time will tell how the BJP strategy will work for them in states like MP, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Odisha, Gujarat and Rajasthan with sizeable tribal voter base.

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