Back in 2018, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) was the surprise element in Rajasthan Assembly polls, winning two seats and finishing a close second in some constituencies in the southern part of the state in what was its first elections.
Five years later, tribal groups in Rajasthan have floated another political outfit called the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP) after breaking away from the BTP. Both BTP MLAs — Chorasi MLA Rajkumar Roat and Sagwara MLA Ramprasad Dindor — have quit the party and joined the BAP.
While both the Congress and the BJP are trying to reach out to the tribal population in the state — the 2011 Census puts the number of Scheduled Tribes (STs) in the state at 13.48% of the population — the newly formed BAP could change the electoral arithmetic in southern Rajasthan. The party is looking to contest at least 17 seats in five districts in the region besides debuting in Madhya Pradesh.
“Back in 2018, we invited the Chhotubhai Vasava-led BTP (a party from Gujarat) to Rajasthan because, at the time, we felt the need for a political platform after years of social movements in southern Rajasthan. But later, we noticed that the BTP high command would make unilateral decisions. For example, during the Dhariyawad bypoll, they chose a candidate who was not the choice of the party’s local organisation. These factors led us to create BAP,” said Rajkumar Roat, the MLA from Chorasi in Dungarpur district.
In that bypoll, state BTP leaders supported Independent candidate Thawarchand Damor instead of the party’s official choice. The Congress won the bypoll, while Damor came second.
“All BTP cadre have shifted to the BAP, including MLAs, pradhans, and sarpanches. We have planned to contest at least 17 seats in southern Rajasthan. We are open to alliance with national parties if they are willing to raise issues impacting tribals. For a long time, there has been a demand for a separate state for Bhils. Neither Congress nor BJP governments have followed the Constitution and adhered to a reservation policy for tribals in southern Rajasthan. The public is with the BAP, which is raising these issues,” said Roat.
On October 9, the Election Commission allotted the symbol of a hockey stick and ball to the BAP for contesting in Rajasthan. In Madhya Pradesh, the party will contest under the symbol of auto rickshaw.
In recent years, a section of the tribal population has emerged as a strong voice against Hindutva in southern Rajasthan and has been at loggerheads with organisations affiliated to the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated outfits such as the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram that works among tribals.
“We are against this game of portraying Adivasis as Hindus. Our culture doesn’t match with the Hindu culture. There is massive support among the public for the issues we are raising about the rights of tribals,” BAP national president Mohanlal Roat told The Indian Express.
BAP leaders said the party plans to contest several Assembly seats in districts of Udaipur, Banswara, Dungarpur, Pratapgarh and Sirohi, including the constituencies of Udaipur Rural, Jhadol, Salumber, Dungarpur, Sagwara, Chorasi, Aspur, Banswara, Kushalgarh, Bagidora, Ghatol, Pratapgarh, Dhariyawad, and Pindwara.