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Bhil tribals forge political unity, give BJP, Congress jitters in several states; community alleges neglect from govt

Jaipur: Miffed at constant neglect from the government, a section of tribals inhabiting parts of central and western India have organised themselves as a formidable political force pushing for a separate state.

The Bhil tribe is demanding a separate Bhilistan state comprising 22 districts of four states: Rajasthan (five districts), Gujarat (seven), Madhya Pradesh (five), and Maharashtra (five). Their evolution in the political field is indicative of their commitment to the cause.

They first tasted success in 2017, when their student wing — Bhil Pradesh Vidyarthi Morcha (BPVM) — secured a clean sweep in colleges across Dungarpur, Sagwara, Banswara, and Khairwada in Rajasthan and came second in Udaipur, trouncing heavyweights ABVP and NSUI.

The 70-year-old slogan of “Jai Bhil Pradesh” resonated in the Rajasthan Assembly when it gathered for its first session in February. It was raised by two legislators belonging to the newly-formed Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), formed by Chotubhai Vasava, a legislator from Gujarat, in 2017. Rajkumar Roat won from Chourasi seat and Ramprasad Dindor won from Sagwara, both with decent margins. BTP contested 11 seats, won two, and did well in two other seats.

 Bhil tribals forge political unity, give BJP, Congress jitters in several states; community alleges neglect from govt

Members of the Bhil community during a protest rally. Image procured by Sangeeta Pranvendra/101Reporters

A fight for tribal might

Roat said, “All we want is our rights as tribals, as Bhils. It hurts us when we are compared to Naxals. We are not against the state or union of India. All we want is reservation within reservation. Out of the 12 percent reservation for tribals, one community takes up 11 percent and all other tribals get a mere 1 percent. This must end.”

BTP’s MLA from Sagwara, Dindor, seconded him. “Ensuring tribal rights is our main aim. For that, the formation of a separate Bhilistan is necessary. This was the slogan we raised in the Assembly on the first day, when we took oath in the name of nature — the sun, moon, rivers, mountains, and forests; these are our gods. We have arrived on the platform from where our voice can reach people,” he said.

The Bhils are tribals, classified as Scheduled Tribes in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, and Tripura.

In Rajasthan, they are the largest tribe. As per the 2011 census, there are more than 92 lakh people belonging to Scheduled Tribes in the state. This is 12 percent of the state’s total population and nearly 40 percent of its tribal population.

The Bhils established Rajasthan’s Banswara, Udaipur, and Dungarpur kingdoms, which are now districts. They also fought alongside Maharana Pratap in the Haldighati battle against emperor Akbar.

BTP state president Dr Vela Ram Ghoghra confirmed, “We have fielded candidates from four seats, Banswara-Dungarpur, Udaipur, Chittorgarh and Jodhpur. We hope to register our presence in the Parliament this time. Our candidates are Sansi Lal Roat from Banswara-Dungarpur, BL Sanwal from Udaipur, Amar Singh Kalunda from Jodhpur and Prakash Meena from Chittorgarh. We will regularly raise our demands through rallies, first in Rajasthan and later in Delhi."

Ghogra further said, “Why is it that governors and Presidents, who are our guardians as per the Constitution, never took up our cause? It’s time they did now.”

The fifth phase of the Lok Sabha election 2019 will be held on Monday, during which some parts of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh will go to the polls.

How Bhils emerged in politics

Before jumping in the political arena, Bhil leaders had changed tactics and started initiatives to infuse pride in their historic icons among community members and establish the tribal identity. Over the last decade, birth anniversaries of community leaders and icons have been celebrated with increasing enthusiasm and participation.

In 2017, Adivasi Parivar, a Gujarat-based community-funded organisation helped to form BTP.

The RSS did intensive outreach programmes through its Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad. But it failed to stop Bhils from gravitating towards their own party.

The community holds a decisive vote share in 23 Assembly seats in south Rajasthan and the three parliamentary seats of Udaipur, Banswara-Dungarpur, and Chittorgarh.

The 2018 Assembly polls saw the BTP polling 12.5 percent votes in Bhil-dominated seats of Banswara, Dungarpur, Sagwara, Bagidora, Chorasi, Ghatol, Kushalgarh, and Gadhi in Rajasthan.

The Bhilistan dream

The demand for a separate state for Bhils was prominently discussed at the annual convention of the Adivasi Ekta Parishad organised in Silvasa on 14 and 15 January this year. The Parishad is the largest body of tribals.

The community wants Bhilistan formed out of Udaipur, Banswara, Dungarpur, Pratapgarh, and Sirohi in Rajasthan; Aravalli, Banaskantha, Bharuch, Navsari, Valsad, a part of Surat, and Panchmahal in Gujarat; Nashik, Thane, Dhule, a part of Pune, and Ahmednagar in Maharashtra; and Jhabua, Dhar, Barwani, Khargone, and Ratlam in Madhya Pradesh.

The 22 districts have a dominant population of Bhils, a tribe unique to these areas. Historians confirm that, during the British Raj, these areas were called Khan Desh for their mineral mines, and were also called Bhil Patti (strip). They have one language, one gotra, and similar food styles, traditions, and rituals.

(The author is a Jaipur-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com)

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Updated Date: May 04, 2019 22:58:15 IST