As Chhattisgarh gears up for the year-end assembly polls, political parties have started wooing tribals who form a major portion of the state's population.
The ruling BJP, the main Oppositon Congress and regional outfits are eyeing tribal communities, which comprise around 32 per cent of the population and can influence the outcome in a significant number of seats in the 90-member assembly.
As the elections inch closer, leaders of the two national parties have started touring tribal-dominated Surguja and Bastar divisions of the state, which came into existence in November 2000.
The BJP, which is in power in Chhattisgarh since 2003, is confident of getting the support of adivasis once again.
"Tribals will play a crucial role in forming the next government. The BJP will definitely get their support as a result of its development policies which empowered tribal communities in terms of education and social-economic growth," Dharamlal Kaushik, the Bharatiya Janata Party's state unit president, told PTI.
The saffron outfit received a "huge" response from the people in the tribal regions during its recently organised rallies and campaigns, indicating adivasis were happy with the Raman Singh government, he claimed.
Meanwhile, the Congress, which has been struggling to make a comeback in the state after being voted out of power in 2003, too, is confident of getting the support of tribals.
The poor, adivasis and farmers have got nothing during the nearly 15 years of the BJP rule, the party has claimed.
"The Congress (when in power) had enacted laws to ensure protection of tribal rights. The BJP had been violating these laws to provide benefits to its businessmen friends.
Rights of tribals were being snatched," state Congress chief Bhupesh Baghel said.
"The Congress has always fought for the rights of tribals and as a result, it achieved success in tribal pockets during the previous polls. Tribals have understood the BJP government has done nothing and only cheated them," he said.
If the Congress is voted to power after the upcoming elections, it will implement all the laws made for the welfare of tribals, Baghel assured.
In Chhattisgarh, created after the bifurcation of Madhya Pradesh,the first assembly election was held in 2003.
The BJP made deep inroads into the tribal-dominated seats, once considered the Congress strongholds, and came to power for the first time.
In the 2003 assembly polls, 34 seats were reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) candidates and 10 for Scheduled Caste nominees.
The BJP had then won 50 of the 90 seats and ousted the Ajit Jogi-led Congress government from power. The saffron outfit had managed to bag 25 of the 34 ST-reserved seats.
The Congress had won 37 seats, while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had to contend with two and one seat, respectively.
In 2008, the BJP retained power, winning 50 seats. Its main support came from tribals as it won 19 of the 29 ST- reserved segments.
The delimitation exercise had reduced the number of ST -reserved seats from 34 in 2003 to 29 in 2008.
However, in the 2013 assembly polls, the BJP saw erosion in its tribal vote base which shifted significantly to the Congress. However, the shift was not enough for the country's oldest political party to wrest power from the BJP.
The Congress managed to win 18 of the 29 tribal- reserved seats but its overall tally was limited to 39.
The BJP registered its third consecutive poll win, clinching 49 seats, 11 of them reserved for tribals.
The BSP and an Independent nominee won one seat each.
Politics in the state has always been bipolar with the BJP and the Congress dominating elections.
However, the entry of former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi, who floated his own regional outfit, the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh, after quitting the Congress in June 2016, has added a new dimension to the poll fight.
The presence of Jogi, the first Chief Minister of Chhattisgarh, will make contest in several constituencies a triangular fight.
The 72-year-old bureaucrat-turned-politician enjoys a considerable following among Dalits and tribals.
"Tribals have always been with us and therefore we have already announced a tribal chief ministerial candidate," Amit Jogi, a senior leader of the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh and the son of Ajit Jogi, said.
"Neither the BJP nor the Congress has a tribal chief ministerial candidate. Chief Minister Raman Singh (of the BJP) never allowed a tribal leader to emerge in the state," Amit Jogi said.
Both the national parites treat tribals as just vote- banks, said the MLA from Marwahi constituency in Bilaspur district.
Only the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh has announced an adivasi chief ministerial candidate (Ajit Jogi), he said, adding the Congress and the BJP should also nominate leaders from tribal communities for the top post.
If the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh is elected to power, it will appoint deputy chief ministers for Surguja and Bastar divisions, Amit Jogi said.