Dungarpur— In a historic gathering that drew thousands of tribal community members from Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra, the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP) was officially launched in the non descript village of Genji Ghata in Dungarpur district on Sunday. The event marked the birth of a national political entity dedicated to uniting and championing the rights and aspirations of indigenous communities across India.
The birth of BAP symbolizes the emergence of a formidable national political entity, one with a clear and unwavering mission - to unite and tirelessly champion the rights and aspirations of indigenous communities across the diverse expanse of India. This launch has sent ripples of hope throughout tribal populations, igniting a renewed sense of purpose and a powerful platform for their voices to be heard. The leaders announced that the BAP would contest elections on all the ST reserved seats ahead of the upcoming state assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh this year.
With the unveiling of its national leadership, the Bharat Adivasi Party (BAP) made a bold proclamation: the forthcoming 2023 assembly elections and the pivotal 2024 Lok Sabha elections will pose significant challenges to the established political giants, the Congress and the BJP. BAP, it was declared, would serve as the resounding voice of India's indigenous communities, asserting that their voices and rights are not to be overlooked.
In a resounding declaration of commitment to grassroots democracy and tribal empowerment, Kantilal Roat, one of the founding members of BAP, stated, "Tribal tickets won't be decided from Delhi, Jaipur, or Bhopal. We will sit with the community, and the people would decide who would be the apt candidate to represent them."
The BAP, recently registered by the Election Commission of India, announced its intention to contest the upcoming assembly elections in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, particularly targeting all the seats reserved for tribal communities and the seats adjoining tribal areas that influence tribal votes. The party's leaders expressed a deep-seated dissatisfaction with the major political players like the Congress and BJP, accusing them of viewing indigenous communities solely as voters and failing to address their legitimate concerns.
Speaking to The Mooknayak, Kantilal Roat, expressed the sentiments of many within the tribal communities, saying, "Congress and BJP parties have always seen us as voters and never given our dues either in elections or in selection (recruitment). Tribal leaders in these parties too have never cared for the community but worked for their own interests, and therefore, whatever the tribal have gained has been through the harsh struggles of our forefathers."
The core agenda of the Bharat Adivasi Party centers around the creation of a new state called "Bhil Pradesh," which would provide a distinct identity and administration for Bhil tribal populations residing in significant numbers across Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. Roat emphasized the importance of securing rights over their ancestral lands, forests, water resources, and the environment, which have been exploited by mainstream parties. " The Britishers gave us a map of Bhil Country which we have revised as 'Bhil Pradesh' because it sounds like a part of India while Bhil country sounds like a separate entity."
This demand was first raised by Govind Guru, a Bhil social reformer and spiritual leader, after the tragic event of the Mangarh massacre in 1913.On 17 November 1913, the Mangarh massacre occurred in the hills situated on the border of Rajasthan and Gujarat. British forces ruthlessly killed hundreds of Bhils, an indigenous community. This brutal incident is sometimes referred to as the "Adivasi Jallianwala" in reference to the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. This proposed state would be formed by carving out 43 districts from four states, namely Gujarat , Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra.
BAP's decision to form a separate party instead of aligning with the existing Bhartuya Tribal Party (BTP) was explained by Mohanlal Roat, the National President of BAP. He pointed out that most political parties, including Congress, BJP and even the BTP, prioritize accountability to their party leadership over their electorate. BAP, in contrast, pledges that its representatives will be directly responsible to the people who elect them, not to party high commands.
Addressing the broader focus of BAP, Kantilal Roat affirmed that the party is committed not only to tribal communities but also to all marginalized groups, including minorities, Muslims, and vulnerable sections of society. He expressed deep concern over increasing atrocities against minorities and Dalits, particularly in Rajasthan, and pledged to address these issues.
Dr. Jitendra Meena, an activist and assistant professor at Delhi University, highlighted the potential impact of BAP on the four tribal states. He emphasized that there are approximately 14 crore tribal people in India, and after 75 years of independence, so far, no political party has adequately addressed their needs. Meena criticized the exploitation of tribal communities during election campaigns, where they are offered liquor, meat, and money while their resources are plundered.
" The Adivasis are traditionally forest dwellers, and despite the abundant natural resources in South Rajasthan, builders, contractors, politicians, and businessmen have taken all the benefits, leaving the Adivasis in utter poverty with a lack of basic facilities and the right to a dignified life" he says.
Dr Meena further emphasized that the provisions of the 5th and 6th schedules of the Indian Constitution, designed to protect tribal welfare, have been severely neglected. He pointed out the lack of implementation of the PESA Act, which grants power to gram sabhas (village councils) to manage their affairs, and the absence of mandatory Tribal Advisory Councils in many states.
He further adds that legal mining is the most significant fraud occurring in scheduled areas. Despite enactment of the PESA Act 25 years ago, it has not been implemented in Rajasthan . All the fraudulent activity openly violating the constitution provisions enunciated for Scheduled Area, would only stop if the gram sabha process is followed . This exploitation of resources through illegal means not only violates the law but also deprives the rightful owners of the benefits of these resources. He also says, the Bhil community is demanding the formation of this separate state under Article 244(1) of the Indian Constitution, which provides for the creation of an autonomous state for certain tribes in India. "
" BAP is poised to ignite a fresh sense of hope among the populace. Our unwavering stance is clear: we won't forge alliances with existing parties while ensuring that the voices of the marginalized are not just heard but given the significance they rightfully deserve".
The Gujarat-based Bhartiya Tribal Party had successfully made inroads into South Rajasthan during the 2018 elections. However, internal strife had been brewing within the party, primarily stemming from differences in supporting the ruling Congress during a political crisis in the state in 2020. BTP legislator Chorasi, Rajkumar Roat and MLA Ramprasad Dindor severed all ties with the BTP to form BAP. Roat said that the central leadership's disregard for local dynamics in Rajasthan, focusing instead on Gujarat politics and national ambitions, was the primary cause of their departure.
Dindor placed blame on BTP's national leaders, including its president Chotubhal Vasava, for the Rajasthan unit's decision to break away. He cited instances of direct interference by the central leadership, notably during the political crisis in Congress and the Rajya Sabha polls in 2020. Dindor highlighted that the central leadership had imposed its decisions on them, while they intended to engage with various social tribal bodies, which formed their support base in the region. During the Rajya Sabha polls in both 2020 and 2022, the central leadership allegedly sought to isolate him and Roat in Gujarat to facilitate negotiations with the Congress government.
In the 2018 Assembly polls, BTP's victories in two seats, along with its emergence as the first runners-up in other constituencies, were attributed to the support of affiliated organizations like Adivasi Parivar, Bhil Pradesh Mukhti Morcha, Bheel Pradesh Vidhyarthi Morcha, and the Tribal Employees Federation. These frontal bodies had initially been running as a united tribal group independently, and BTP's offer to contest the elections under its banner was conditional, reflecting a complex web of alliances that ultimately led to the rift within the party. Now these frontal organisations would work together for BAP.
India, known for its rich cultural diversity, is home to the largest tribal population in the world. According to the 1991 census, there were approximately 6.7 crore Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the country, accounting for 8.08 percent of the overall population. However, this demographic landscape has evolved significantly over the years.
As of the 2001 census, India's tribal population had increased to 8.43 crore individuals. A decade later, according to the 2011 census, this number further surged to 10.42 crores, constituting 8.6 percent of the country's total population.
Interestingly, there are regional variations in the distribution of Scheduled Tribes. In certain regions, their presence is particularly pronounced, while in others, they are notably absent. For instance, no tribes have been scheduled in Punjab and Haryana, nor in the union territories of Delhi, Chandigarh, and Puducherry. In contrast, states like Mizoram and Lakshadweep exhibit a significant tribal population, with 94.43 percent and 94.79 percent of their respective total populations belonging to Scheduled Tribes.
Delving deeper into the regional dynamics, among the 15 major states, Chhattisgarh emerges as having the largest proportion of the Scheduled Tribe population, accounting for 30.62 percent of its demographic composition. Jharkhand follows closely behind at 26.21 percent. These figures emphasize the concentration of tribal communities in specific geographic areas, where their unique cultures and traditions continue to thrive.
A substantial 71 percent of India's Scheduled Tribes population is primarily concentrated in six states: Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Jharkhand. These states play a pivotal role in shaping the socio-economic and political landscape for India's indigenous communities.