Tripura’s principal Opposition TIPRA Motha party’s founder and royal scion-turned-politician Pradyot Kishore Manikya Debbarm With an aim to rope in the tribal votes in the upcoming assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to woo the tribal community, especially the Gond tribe, tribal leaders say.
In MP’s Mahakoshal region, Gond tribal icons – Rani Durgavati, who fought against the Mughals, and the Gondwana empire king Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah – who were killed by the Britishers, have snowballed into an important electoral issue.
Local tribal leaders believe that the BJP is attempting to polarise the tribal voters by prompting the legendary icons and the foundation stone of the ‘Veerangana Rani Durgavati Smarak aur Udyaan’ in Jabalpur – laid by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on her 500th birth anniversary on October 5 – is part the ruling party’s agenda to lure in the tribals.
To be built at a cost of about Rs.100 crore in Jabalpur, the ‘Veerangana Rani Durgavati Smarak aur Udyaan’ will be spread over an area of about 21 acres showcasing a 52-foot-high bronze statue of Rani Durgavati, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had announced at the time of tone laying ceremony.
The statues of Shankar Shah and his son are erected at another place in Jabalpur city. Chouhan had last year announced that September 18 will be celebrated as Balidan Diwas (sacrifice day) every year.
However, locals say this year the function was a low-key affair and to provide an equal platform to their icons, the local tribal leaders are planning to build a memorial for the Shankar Shah and his son in Jabalpur. “We will build a memorial for them also,” said Gondwana Gantantra Party state president Aman Singh Porte.
The Opposition Congress and some tribal groups have alleged that while Rani Durgavati was being promoted (by the BJP), the party has ignored the father-son duo who rebelled against the British empire.
“The BJP is highlighting tribal icons and doing cosmetic changes for electoral gains. In reality, they are anti-tribals,” former chief minister and Congress leader Digvijaya Singh said.
Of the 21.1% tribal population in Madhya Pradesh, Gonds are the second largest after Bhils and hold sway in the Mahakoshal region, especially in districts such as Mandala, Dindori and Shahdol. They also influence some areas of the Vindhya region.
In 2018, the BJP suffered defeat in the tribal belt mainly in the Gondwana area. It won 31 of 47 seats reserved for tribals in the 2013 assembly elections which came down to 16 in 2018. This time, the party aims to capture the tribal seats.
Madhya Pradesh will go to polls on November 17 to elect and results will be declared on December 3.
Guljar Singh Markam, who quit the Gondwana Gantantra Party to float his own political outfit– Kranti Janshakti Party in 2022 said, “The BJP government’s plan to build the memorial after Rani Durgavati has something to do with its design to woo tribal voters by creating a division in society.”
He alleged that the BJP mentioned Rani Durgavati’s memorial in their rallies and speeches ahead of the assembly elections because she fought the Mughals.
“Similar importance has not been given to Raja Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah who fought the British and made a supreme sacrifice,” Markam said.
The BJP has not announced any memorial for them as it does not suit the BJP’s scheme of things during elections, he added.
Porte said the BJP’s promotion of Rani Durgavati at the cost of Shankar and Raghunath Shah has become a poll issue and they were trying to divide tribals.
“Both BJP and Congress have neglected supreme sacrifice and martyrdom of tribal leaders during freedom struggle like Shankar Shah, Raghunath Shah, Tantya Mama and others,” he said.
Most of the tribal leaders whom HT spoke to during a visit to the Mahakoshal region said these tribal icons were being highlighted to cover up for the lack of development in tribal areas and mislead the innocent tribal population.
“No party is raising the real tribal issues which are poverty, migration for work, unemployment, poor health indicators and identity crisis of tribals,” said tribal right activist and former general secretary of Gondwana Gantantra Party Dhirendra Dhiru.
State BJP spokesperson Dr Hitesh Bajpai said that for the BJP, a memorial is akin to its commitment to the tribal community.
“It’s not that other warriors have been forgotten. Habibganj Railway Station has been renamed as Rani Kamalapati railway station. Similarly, Patalpani railway station has been renamed after Tanty Mama. CM Chouhan paid homage to Raja Shankar Shah and Raghunath Shah at their statues only recently,” he added.
“Any memorial in the name of legendary figures should not be motivated by politics. It should come up to inspire the generations to come but the problem with BJP is it is always eager to mix politics with anything it does to draw political mileage from it,” Madhya Pradesh Congress general secretary Rajiv Singh said.
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