Hindu Groups Counters Missionaries in Tribal Gujurat
Posted April 8, 2004
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
[TUESDAY, APRIL 06, 2004 01:37:26 AM]
(Inputs by Gaurav Panchal)
VADODARA: When Gujarat Congress Legislature Party leader Amarsinh Choudhary told a court six years ago that since he was a tribal he could not be called a Hindu, he wanted to avoid prosecution for marrying again without divorcing his first wife.
Today he'd think twice before saying that. In the narrow tribal belt of east Gujarat, Congress is finding this once impregnable bastion swamped by saffron.
When Varsan Rathwa (25) got married at Kawant near Vadodara earlier this year, he insisted a Brahmin priest be called to solemnise the wedding.
"Of course I am a Hindu," he says angrily when asked about what religion he follows. Rathwa has deities of Lord Ram, gifted to him by VHP cadres, adorning his home.
Several Christian missionaries working here were badly affected by the Gujarat riots. But Bipin Rathwa, who runs a fertiliser shop at Chotaudepur, says the Swaminarayan sect which works for health and education in tribal areas is doing a better job.
Both Varsan and Bipin are BJP supporters and swear by Hindutva. Though Congress has nominated tribal candidates only on four reserved seats, the BJP has gone two steps further by nominating tribal candidates from the general seats of Bharuch and Sabarkantha too.
Riots in tribal-dominated districts like Dahod, Godhra, Vadodara and Sabarkantha in early 2002 also showed the ugly face of communalism that had penetrated tribal countryside.
Election results mirrored the riots: BJP, which could win none of 7 assembly segments of Chotaudepur in 1998, won all in 2002. In Dahod, it increased its tally from one in 1998 to 7 in 2002.
Earlier, Congress used to take these tribal seats for granted. Chhitubhai Gamit (Mandvi) and Somjibhai Damor (Dahod) both enjoyed 7 uninterrupted terms as Lok Sabha MPs from 1977 to 1998, a record which no other MP, from the Congress or the BJP, can boast of in Gujarat.
In 1999, BJP won all 4 reserved tribal seats and this was the first time any non-Congress party in Gujarat achieved this feat.
"Congress has virtually gifted its bastion to the BJP," says Chhitubhai Gamit, denied a Congress ticket this time. All wings of the Sangh Parivar have made inroads into the tribal belt. Result: pictures of Bharat Mata, Hanuman and Ram in most tribal homes in central Gujarat today.