Bhil Pradesh: A Dream Deferred or a Movement on the Rise?

Gavri is a dance festival celebrated by Bhil community in Mewar
Gavri is a dance festival celebrated by Bhil community in Mewar

The Congress supporters term the administrative restructuring as CM Ashok Gehlot's 'Master Stroke' to quieten the long standing demand for seperate statehood by the dominant Bhil Community in South Rajasthan.

Rajasthan— With just a few months to go before the state elections, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot's announcement of the formation of 19 new districts and 3 divisional headquarters is being viewed as a political strategy to counter anti-incumbency sentiments and appease potential challengers.

In the southern region of Rajasthan, which is dominated by tribal communities, the longstanding demand for a separate state has gained traction in recent years, fueled by the rising popularity of the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), a political organization formed in 2017, that represents the tribal population in Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Maharashtra. BTP won two seats in the 2018 assembly polls and has been gaining momentum over the past five years.

A Master Stroke to Curb Bhil Movement

The restructuring move is being interpreted as an attempt to stifle the movement for a separate tribal state, which has been a source of concern for both the Congress and the BJP, as the BTP party's influence and awareness campaigns continues to grow among the people who have begun asserting their rights and aspirations. The supporters of the Congress government term the restructuring as Gehlot's Master Stroke to quieten the movement for seperate statehood.

Gavri is a dance festival celebrated by Bhil community in Mewar
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Some of the political pundits too believe, the Bhil community's demand for a separate Bhil Pradesh may face obstacles due to the recent restructuring of districts and internal conflicts within the BTP. The administrative approachability and accessibility would facilitate fast redressal of grievances of the poorer sections, many claim.

"The restructuring is expected to increase administrative efficiency and tackle managerial issues in distantly located areas. The creation of a divisional headquarters at Banswara would ease the execution, inspection and monitoring of the government policies in Dungarpur and Pratapgarh that have the dense tribal population. It would a kind of 'Sarkar Aapke Dwar' phase where all the zonal offices would be established to cater the local needs" opines Dr. Girdhari Singh Kumpawat , retired Prof and Head of the Political Science Department of Mohanlal Sukhadia University. Political researchers also see the restructuring as a lack of contiguity for the BTP as well as other similar groups, which may weaken their claim for a separate state.

The Crack Within

Additionally, according to sources, the BTP, which has been vocal in advocating for a separate state called Bhil Pradesh, is currently experiencing rifts and internal disagreements that could negatively impact the movement. These developments may force the Bhil community to reassess their strategies and tactics for achieving their long-standing goal.

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However, the BTP State President, Dr. Velaram Ghogra, refutes all claims as baseless. "Neither the administrative restructuring nor any internal rift would affect the movement for Bhil Pradesh because it is not a political cause but an inner realization dawning on every person in our Bhil community. It is the first time in 70 years that BTP has awakened people about the power of Gram Sabha under the PESA Act, which neither the Congress nor BJP government has implemented in Rajasthan for so many years," Velaram told The Mooknayak. He further adds that the major parties have always been working for their vested interests and never cared for the marginalized sections. "With the implementation of PESA, a collector would be reduced to a mere position of an assistant, and Gram Sabhas would become powerful. Neither the bureaucracy nor the political parties want to empower and strengthen the villagers. BTP is bringing this awareness in South Rajasthan, and hence they are afraid of us," Velaram laughs loudly

BTP & the Social Democratic Alliance

When The Mooknayak referred to some past events that sparked a fracture within the party and it's two of elected representatives, Rajkumar Roat and Ramprasad Dindor, the Party President said it is not a serious affair. "There are differences of opinion even in families and sometimes lack of maturity causes dissent between people. This will not affect the party's determination to make a big victory in the upcoming state elections. We are working with common motives and collective efforts and the differences are not any major obstacle in achieving our aim " Ghogra said. BTP aims to win 10 to 15 seats not only from our reserved area but also out of the Tribal Sub Plan area, he added. The BTP is forming a coalition with four parties including Social Democratic Party Of India (SDPI), the Ambedkerite Party of India (API) and Rajasthan Democratic Front (RDF).

The election would be contest together under the banner of Social Democratic Alliance, Ghogra said.

It is noteworthy that the BTP legislators Rajkumar Roat from Chourasi and Ramprasad Dhindor from Sagwara, both seats in Dungarpur districts, have been accused of repeatedly acted against the party mandate, violating the party line and attending public meetings organized by the Bhil Pradesh Mukti Morcha, a group perceived as being hostile to the BTP. These actions have caused consternation within the upper echelons of the BTP. Roat and Dindor were under investigation for voting in favor of Congress candidates in the Rajya Sabha polls, despite being whipped by the BTP to abstain from voting.

The Mooknayak reached out to MLA Ramprasad to know his opinion on the movement and election strategy. In a bold statment, the MLA said that he and Rajkumar are more or less independent legislators without a party tag. He said the party was inconsequential to the tribal movement and that the people are larger than any party. Furthermore, he emphasized that the movement had been in motion for several years, with various groups and organizations working towards the cause. Dhindor asserted that they were already prepared to contest elections independently. It remains to be seen how these developments will impact the demand for Bhil Pradesh in the long term.

Gavri is a dance festival celebrated by Bhil community in Mewar
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The Demand for a Bhil Pradesh

The Bhil community is demanding a separate state or Pradesh with scheduled tribe privileges. 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.

Some of the districts that would be included in Bhil Pradesh are Dungarpur, Banswara, and Pratapgarh in southern Rajasthan; Ratlam, Jhabua, Alirajpur, Dhar, and Petlawad in Madhya Pradesh; Panchmahal Godhra, Dahod, and Dang in Gujarat; and Nashik and Dhule in Maharashtra.

Bhil Pradesh a Constitutional Demand: Prof Jitendra Meena

Dr. Jitendra Meena, a Professor at the History Department of Delhi University, believes that a separate state is a constitutional demand and the only solution for the Adivasi people, particularly the Bhils, who are among the largest tribal populations in India. Meena who hails from South Rajasthan himself, expresses that his people have faced exploitation and harassment at the hands of the non-tribal population for 75 years. " 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 is confident that no amount of administrative restructuring would dampen their movement for a separate state.

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.

According to the Indian Constitution, Article 244(1) of the 5th Schedule applies to the administration and control of Scheduled Areas and Scheduled Tribes in any state other than the states of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, and Mizoram.The Bhil community is demanding the creation of a separate state under these provisions, as they believe it would give them greater autonomy and control over their own affairs, as well as provide them with better opportunities for social and economic development.

Gavri is a dance festival celebrated by Bhil community in Mewar
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When questioned about the government referring to the "Red Corridor" and Naxalite activities in South Rajasthan, Dr. Meena expressed his belief that it is typical of the regime to suppress any just and genuine movement. He further explained that whenever Muslims demand their rights, they are often labeled as Khalistanis, and when people from the city assert their opinions, they are labeled as urban Naxalites. If the government suspects Naxalite activities, he believes they should arrest those involved, but also questions why intelligence and crime prevention agencies are not doing their job effectively. Meena says, Bhil Pradesh is beyond political ambitions and aspirations and it is a dream in the eyes of every Bhil man and woman. " It may take some time but ultimately the dream of a separate Bhil Pradesh would ultimately be realised and we will have the rights to rule ourself" Meena concludes on a positive note. It is hence certainly for a movement on the rise, he smiles.

Self help groups are helping women in tribal settlements towards financial independence
Self help groups are helping women in tribal settlements towards financial independence

Previous experiences

There have been some challenges faced by certain states in India that were created through the process of reorganization. Jharkhand, which was formed in 2000, has faced governance and administrative issues, with allegations of corruption and coal scams. Chhattisgarh, which was also created in 2000, has seen large-scale displacement of tribals due to development projects, leading to issues of land rights and resource management. Uttarakhand, which was formed in 2000 as well, has struggled to improve its Human Development Index, with low levels of education, healthcare, and income. The recent floods have also highlighted the state's lack of preparedness in dealing with natural disasters and the rehabilitation of affected communities.

Telangana, which was formed in 2014, has faced financial challenges, with heavy reliance on central grants to fund its newly created administrative and institutional machinery. However, it is important to note that while these states have faced some difficulties, they have also made progress in various areas and continue to work towards addressing their challenges. North East States have been way ahead in terms of development and empowerment of their tribal communities.

Gavri is a dance festival celebrated by Bhil community in Mewar
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