Tribal equations fuel dissent in Gujarat Congress

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Vyara: Internal dissension in the Congress party could be a major setback for the party in the upcoming Gujarat elections.

Several Congress leaders are contesting these elections as independents, in the process hurting the chances of the party in cashing in on the anti-incumbency factor in the state.

Former Congress chief minister Amarsinh Chowdhary made the party high command give his son Prashad Chowdhary a ticket from the Congress stronghold of Vyara for his first elections. This in turn unseats sitting Congress MLA Paratap Gamit.

The miffed MLA, claiming the support of his Gamit tribesmen, is now standing as an independent. And with the Chowdhary and Gamit tribes constituting roughly 40 percent each of the constituency, the battle for Vyara is simply one of tribal supremacy.

“Our competition is with the independents only and not with anyone else, the BJP is not here,” says Chowdhary.

Split vote

In a region where elections have traditionally been a straight context between the Congress and the BJP, the entry of the rebels in a three-cornered fight could work in the BJP’s favour incase of a vote split. And it is a story repeated across south Gujarat’s tribal belt.

In seats where the Congress was gaining due to a sitting anti-incumbency factor, poor-ticket selection by the party has resulted in many rebels standing against official party nominees. Most of these rebels have based their case on tribal caste lines.

Tribal sub-identities

These include the constituencies of Vyara, Mahuva, Dharampur, Dangs and Vardoli. And it is not just the sidelined party leaders that have turned rebel.

Angry at the poor ticket distribution, veteran Gandhian Jeena Bhai Darji, known as the originator of the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) theory that gave the Congres s its victories in Gujarat in the 1980s has come out of retirement to campaign against the official Congress nominee.

“I will support the independents. We have decided to never support communal and fascist forces,” insists Darji.

Traditionally a Congress bastion, the tribal belt of south Gujarat has for the first time seen the emergence of a sub-tribal caste identity in these elections.

With various tribal groups like the Chowdharys, the Gamits, the Varlis and the Vasavas wanting their own candidates the Congress is facing an uphill task with internal dissent.


By Nalin Mehta in www.ndtv.com - December 5, 2002
www.ndtv.com