BHOPAL: On April 24, 2018, at a public rally in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandla district, Prime Minister Narendra Modi lamented that tribal legends such as Rani Durgavati and Birsa Munda did not get their due in Indian history, which, he said, was dominated by one family (the Gandhi-Nehru clan).
Ironically, a political row is now brewing for the ruling BJP at Mahakoshal region in the poll-bound state over the installation of Jan Sangh founder Syama Prasad Mookerjee’s statue instead of Rani Durgavati’s near Golauwa Tal — one of the 52 big ponds dug under the rule of the brave queen and other Gond rulers in Jabalpur town.
Hunger strikes by Gond tribals and other communities has now led to a movement linked to the pride of Gond tribals, who form around 80% of the around 1.75 crore-strong tribal base in MP. The Scheduled Tribe communities constitute around 21% of the state’s population. The Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP), which after 15 years is going to contest the Assembly polls as a United outfit, is open about its interests. “Not installing our legendary queen’s statue and instead replacing it with that of the Jan Sangh founder is an insult to the pride of every Gond tribal. It’s a well-calculated ploy of the BJP regime to saffronise a historical pond connected inseparably to Gond tribal history. It’s bound to turn into a major poll issue in entire Mahakoshal belt that will affect around 60 seats in the region,” GGP convener Gulzar Singh Markam says.
The Gonds form a significant chunk of voters, particularly in Chhindwara, Mandla, Balaghat, Dindori, Shadol, Anuppur, Panna, Betul and Harda districts.In 2003, when all warring factions fought together, the GGP won three seats in Chhindwara and Balaghat districts. Backed by smaller non-tribal outfits such as Bahujan Sangharsh Dal of ex-BSP state president Phool Singh Baraiya and Sharad Yadav faction of JD-U this time, the GGP is working to form a viable front at least in Mahakoshal region. “We’re open to an alliance with other parties, including the Congress, for protecting the interests and culture of the tribal population, especially Gonds,” says Markam.
Importantly, the Congress is expected to do well at Mahakoshal in the polls given that its new state chief Kamal Nath is a nine-time Lok Sabha MP from the same region.“The issue of the Jabalpur Municipal Corporation (JMC) not installing Rani Durgavati statue will be taken to each and every nook and cranny of the Gondwana land. It’s an insult to every Gond tribals, who should give a befitting reply to the BJP in the next polls,” GGP state vice-president Aman Singh Porte asserts.
Anger arising out of neglect to the tribal legend’s statue near the Golauwa Tal has already cornered a powerful Gond leader of the BJP. Former Union minister and Mandla Lok Sabha MP Faggan Singh Kulaste, who reportedly backed the decision of not removing Mookerjee’s statue, is facing a social boycott called by the Gonds. “It’s true that Gond tribals led by the GGP have given a social boycott call against Kulaste for not backing the demands of his own community. We stick to that and there is no change in it,” says Porte.