Meanwhile, the BJP ST Morcha has already started organising Abhinandan yatras to celebrate the decision and spread awareness about its importance to the community. Need to protect STs from “religious conversions” by strengthening the law, delisting the converts to Christianity and Islam from ST status, having specialised skill development programmes for them together with their traditional skills, increasing the number of ‘ekal vidyalays’, have been some important demands of the RSS, apart from setting up memorials and museums highlighting the participation of tribal leaders in the freedom struggle.
Electorally, the BJP could win only 16 of the 47 seats reserved for STs in the 2018 assembly polls in MP while in Gujarat which has 37 constituencies with a significant tribal population, the BJP won 19 seats and the Congress 15 in 2017.
In ST-dominated areas in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, the party lost most of the seats reserved for STs in 2018. The party pushed its momentum and BJP won all reserved (SC/ST) seats, including MP, Karnataka, Gujarat and Rajasthan in 2019.
Samir Oraon, MP and BJP ST Morcha head said, “During the Pathalgadi movement when the attempted tweaking of the tenancy acts had created distrust among tribals, Droupadi Murmu as the governor of Jharkhand spoke to both sides, and without falling prey to pressure politics but also behaving practically brought the situation under control. The situation could have worsened if she hadn’t taken that route.” The Pathalgadi movement was started by tribals in Jharkhand as a resistance movement to assert their rights, including the right to sovereign territory.
Two months ago, after a series of protests by tribals of south Gujarat against the Par Tapi Narmada river-linking project, the Centre decided to put the project on hold.
Earlier this year, three big tribal bodies took to the streets and blocked railway tracks threatening to resort to violent protests if the NDA government did not give its nod to the Sarna religion code resolution passed by the Hemant Soren-led government in Jharkhand. Many ST outfits protested in Jharkhand and MP alleging poor implementation of PESA (Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension Schedule Area) Act, one of the strongest acts supporting tribal communities which ensures self-governance through gram sabhas.
Harshad Vasavada, head of the ST cell in Gujarat, said the state unit has already started preparations to organise avkaar (welcome) rallies for the announcement on Murmu and highlight the ST beneficiaries.
“In Gujarat too, we had protests a while back by some groups. This is only because they get misled. I tell them to show any state that has better living conditions for STs and they can’t. Here, with Modi’s Van Bandhu programme, the ST community is much better than what it was years ago. With a tribal as president, we have completely silenced the opposition.”
BJP’s state secretary for the youth wing in Odisha, Sibani Manjhi, said Murmu’s work among Santhali students, particularly girls, was well known in the community. “As a teacher, she understands the importance of education and often she pays for the education of ST students studying in Van vidyalayas here. That is why they consider and treat her as their own.”
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