Gujarat polls: Will BJP's micro management yield results in tribal Dahod?
As one moves eastwards from Godhra, multi-storeyed structures give way to smaller houses with low roofs. Lush green maize fields give way to undulating slopes covered with shrubs. One can barely see any people milling about because of the scarce population. There are no outward signs that the election for the Gujarat assembly are currently ongoing.
It's a similar scenario at the district headquarters of Dahod.
But it's all a facade. The BJP, which is sweating over possibly losing the state to the Congress for the first time in decades, is hard at work in this prominent tribal district in central Gujarat. 'Micro management' is the name of the game and is the tool that has been adopted by BJP to make inroads into Congress strongholds.
A weak link for BJP
Last time, the two parties were locked in a draw of sorts in this district, with each winning three seats each. While Congress won Garbada, Dahod and Jhalod, the BJP managed to put Limkheda, Devgadh Baria and Fatehpura into its kitty.
In the last parliamentary polls, Jaswantsinh Bhabhor won the Dahod parliamentary seat defeating the firebrand Congress leader Prabha Taviad and was made a union minister for tribal affairs - a development BJP is trying to cash in during these polls. Besides, Dahod city is the only tribal city in the state that has been picked to be part of the flagship Smart Cities programme that was launched by the Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre.
BJP has done its level best to get workers and leaders from across the state to work the area as it has been considered a weak link in the past.
"We have been able to penetrate right up to the booth level. Today we have one worker taking care of every 48 persons in the constituencies of this district. He knows how to persuade, coax and lure the voters to get the desired results,” says Tarun Chugh, a BJP leader from Punjab who has been camping in this district for over three months.
In the slog overs, the Congress too has got leaders from adjoining Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan to campaign here.
“The scenario has changed over the last 22 years in this belt. In fact, there has been a role reversal in some parts. Earlier, the BJP did not have proper organisation in place in this area. There were entire villages BJP never approached as they knew the voters were die-hard Congress supporters. But this is no longer the case and today both parties are evenly placed,” said political analyst Shwetal Kothari.
According to Kothari, the tribal population, which is largely illiterate, particularly the old generation, used to view former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as their saviour. "I do not understand why Congress has removed her from its literature that it circulates among the electorate. It has proved counter productive,” he said.
Both BJP and Congress have been off the mark in their campaigns in the tribal villages.
“The Congress has talked about unemployment allowance, but there are hardly any youngsters who are educated enough to avail this allowance. BJP has been announcing big schemes without realising that there is no co-ordination between various departments in the states as well as those of the Centre. The Dahod-Indore express highway is hanging because there is no permission to cut trees that stand in the middle of the road. Same is the case with many other projects,” he disclosed.
The devil and the deep sea
“How do you expect the BJP narrative on development to go down with the tribals? Here you have illiterate people who cannot even write their names properly and you want them to be a part of your cashless economy. There has been no 'vikas' in the villages,” says another political analyst Sabir Sheikh.
The locals claim that the BJP governments did nothing to check the emigration of the tribals. “You can come across manual labour from this district across Gujarat as well as adjoining states. The government claims to have started several micro irrigation schemes but thee fact remains that the tribals are not able to get two harvests. They survive on rain fed subsistence agriculture,” Sabir added.
“The tribals continue to be exploited in this area. They are innocent people who agree to pay a monthly interest of ten per cent on the small loans they take from local money lenders,” explained Samir Shah, a RSS worker from Fatehpura.
As of now Dahod city is nowhere close to being a 'Smart City'. It remains a dirty town where civic amenities are yet to be put in order. The minority dominated Qasba area presents a pitiable picture with its bad roads, overflowing gutters and stench.
“BJP councillors win from this area, thanks to the delimitation that works in their favour and never even bother with the minority pockets. We are trapped between the devil and the deep sea. Congress leaders take our votes for granted while the BJP ones never bother to approach us. We are not happy with our sitting Congress MLA, but he will still get our votes because there is no other option. He never bothered to spend his grant in our area,” said Nayeem, a mechanic.
Locals complain about lack of employment opportunities. They see the revival of the railways' locomotive workshop as one of the options available. “There was a time when more than 35,000 people worked at the facility. Today the strength has dropped to a few thousand. In the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Modi had talked about its revival. The locals are looking forward to it,” says Kothari.
The BJP leaders have been talking about the manufacturing of DEMU and MEMU coaches at the workshop but the project remains a pipe dream for now. The locals want some industrialisation in this area so that they can earn their livelihood.
For now, the BJP is looking forward to increasing its tally on the basis of its micro management that rides over years of sustained efforts put in by various Sangh Parivar organisations in the remote villages. Congress, on the other hand, is confident that its tribal vote bank will not desert the grand old party.