JAGDALPUR: The realisation that having decision-making powers in their hands is the only way to check exploitation at the hands of politicians and Maoists has made tribal groups in some of the villages in Bastar to join the poll fray. They have decided to join hands and contest elections to send their representative to the Assembly this time.
Sarva Adivasi Samaj, a tribal welfare organisation, has for the first time fielded a local, Papu Ram Nag, from Jagdalpur, which has a significant population of Dhurwa tribe. Nag, who belongs to the same tribe, hopes to get the votes of his tribesmen.
The party may not win due to the strong presence of the BJP and the Congress, but is expected to give a tough fight to the candidates of both the national parties. In 2013, it was the shift of Bastar voters to the Congress that had given a scare to the BJP. Of the 12 seats in the region, Congress won 8 while the BJP, which had won 11 seats in 2008, was reduced to 4.
However, resentment against both parties runs deep. “They have been exploiting us for decades. So, we thought why not we field our own people this time. To start with, we decided to field our candidate on one seat and will keep strengthening our organisation in future,” said Prakash Thakur of Sarva Adivasi Samaj. “The idea is that the Adivasi Samaj candidate, if elected, will fight for the tribal rights unlike other parties that exploit us and forget us after elections.”
Their decision to contest election has obviously rattled the national parties. Initially, the Samaj had fielded three candidates — from Chitrakote and Bastar, apart from Jagdalpur. But, there was reportedly enormous pressure on the Samaj and its candidates to withdraw their nominations. The candidates from Chitrakote and Bastar withdrew, reportedly after a few phone calls were made from the high political offices in Raipur and pressure from a royal family.
The Adivasi Samaj has launched door-to-door campaign and its candidate is reaching out to the elders in villages, seeking support for someone from their own tribe. It is worried that last-minute use of money, liquor and muscle power by political parties may swing votes. But it’s ready to give a formidable fight.
“We have been working for the welfare of villagers for the last 15-20 years and they know us. We hope that they will vote for us keeping in mind that we have fighting for their rights and protecting exploitation of ‘jal, jangal, zameen’ (forest, water and land) in the region,” said Ganga Nag, part of the campaign team.
Villagers appreciate the efforts by the Samaj to bring to the fore their problems and make other parties talk about those issues.
“It is good that someone from our community is contesting elections; we will vote for him,” said Pakhlu Kashyap, an octogenarian in Machkot village some 25-30 km outside Jagdalpur. The Samaj says this is just the beginning and the poll result will not deter them as they are here to stay and safeguards the rights of their tribesmen.