Ahmedabad: On the second leg of his Navsarjan Yatra in Gujarat, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi shook a leg with a group of tribals at Chhota Udepur district in Gujarat on Tuesday. A video, in which Gandhi is seen holding a drum and doing the tribal folk dance ‘Timli’, has gone viral on social media.
It signals the Congress party’s attempts to woo tribals—a traditional Congress constituency—after trying to appease disaffected Patidars of poll-bound Gujarat.
On Wednesday, the last day of his three-day visit, Gandhi visited several tribal areas, including a temple shrine at Kabir Mandir in Saliya, and held a series of interactive sessions with tribals in Chhota Udepur, Dahod, Panchmahals and Godhra districts.
Gandhi ended his current visit to Gujarat by holding a public meeting at Fagwel Temple Ground in Kheda district.
Addressing a rally in Devgadh Baria on Wednesday, Gandhi hit out at the development model of Gujarat and said that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was on shaky grounds for upcoming state elections as the people who had earlier believed in the image of development created by the party could now very well see through it.
In the first phase of the Navsarjan Yatra Gandhi tried to play the soft Hindutva card, visiting temples and shrines in the Patidar-dominated Saurashtra region. The second phase was about ensuring that Congress’s traditional vote bank does not slip away.
The tribal belt of Gujarat has long been a stronghold of the Congress party but in the past few elections, there has been a significant shift towards the BJP.
This is not Gandhi’s first visit to the tribal belt in this election year. In May, the Congress leader had addressed a tribal gathering in Narmada district. Ahead of this rally, Gandhi visited a temple in Dev Mogara village dedicated to the deity of a local tribe.
Patels form about 12-14% of the state’s population. Tribals, with a population of nine million, make up around 16-17% of the population in Gujarat.
The BJP, which fears losing a large chunk of its loyal Patel or Patidar voters this time around, has been trying to enlist tribal support ahead of assembly elections due in December.
There are close to 27 reserved assembly constituencies in Gujarat that are dominated by tribals and another 22-24 in Surat and Saurashtra where Patel voters have a strong influence. Of the 27 reserved seats for tribals, the Congress holds 12.
The BJP had earlier this year taken out an Adivasi Vikas Gaurav Yatra in tribal districts as an outreach programme to highlight various schemes and development activities of the state and central governments. The party made significant inroads into the traditional vote base of the Congress as it won 14 reserved tribal seats in 2012.
Last year, on 17 September, Prime Minister Narendra Modi celebrated his 66th birthday with tribals in Gujarat, and announced irrigation and water supply projects worth Rs4,800 crore. In the state’s budget for 2017-18, Rs200 crore was made available for setting up a tribal university in Narmada district—the first university in the tribal belt.
After being in power for over two decades in Gujarat, the BJP is facing two major uprisings—one by the upper caste Patels, who have been seeking reservation, and the other by Dalits on issues of atrocities and discrimination.
Gandhi was seen reaching out to the Patidar community in his public speeches during his visit to Saurashtra last month.
The recent Rajya Sabha election of key Congress strategist and political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Ahmed Patel, appears to have given the party a boost. In a cliffhanger, Patel needed the support of 44 MLAs. After receiving 43 votes from Congress MLAs, the deciding vote came from a tribal leader—Chhotu Vasava of the Janata Dal (United). After Patel’s victory, Vasava said that he hoped for an alliance with the Congress to take on the BJP in the assembly elections.