More than 5,000 members of Rathwa community on Sunday passed a resolution boycotting events and campaigns of all political parties and candidates contesting elections from any seat in Chhota Udepur district until the government clarifies on their Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
The resolution was passed at a protest meet organised by members of the community under the banner of Rathwa Adivasi Samaj Mahasabha at Kawant in Chhota Udepur district. Congress MLAs Mohansinh Rathwa, Sukhramsinh Rathwa and Rajya Sabha member from the Congress Naransinh Rathwa were present at the mahasabha.
This comes two days after the BJP government formed a six-member committee, headed by state Minister for Tribal Welfare Ganpatsinh Vasava, to look into the ST status demands of the Rathwa community in Mahisagar.
“Repeated representations to people in power have yielded no results. We have passed a resolution that we will form a delegation from the community which will meet heads of every political party, first at the state level and then national. And, until we are provided with any solution to our problem, we will boycott all political parties, be it regional or national,” said Arjun Rathwa, a tribal activist and AAP member.
Why tribal identity stirs are political hot potato
Rathwa community, which has a population of around seven lakh in Chhota Udepur district, forms the fifth largest voter population in the state. Chhota Udepur district, which was carved out of Vadodara five years ago, holds a significant importance in the political map of the state with six Assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seats, all for reserved candidates. The caste identity stir of the Rathwa community has also gained momentum in nearby Mahisagar district. Several movements have erupted simultaneously in south Gujarat in recent past, with various tribes extending support to each other’s agitations, thereby delimiting these movements to a single tribe or area. The Rathwa identity agitation too has seen support from Vasava, Tadvi and Nayak tribes from nearby districts, signalling the huge fallout that these movements and agitations could have on the state’s politics.
Accepting the resolution, Congress MLA from Chhota Udepur Mohansinh Rathwa said, “We have made repeated presentations ahead of the Chief Minister and the Ministry of Tribal Development but nothing concrete has happened. So now, we will support what people decide. We will accompany the delegation and boycott political activities if no solution is arrived at.”
Calling the panel constituted by the state government Friday to look into the demands of the community a ‘jumla’, Rajya Sabha member Naransinh Rathwa said, “Such panels are formed to dilute agitations. Only if they come up with a permanent and concrete solution can we say that the panel was worth it. Otherwise it is all a facade.”
One of the demands of the community is the removal of prefixes like Koli and Baria from their names in the revenue records, which the members have said is a “deliberate attempt to hinder prosperity of the population”.
“This was a deliberate attempt to add prefixes to our caste to hinder the prosperity of the tribal population. The government officials deliberately tampered with the revenue records to exploit us by doubting our caste identity,” said Congress MLA from Chhota Udepur Sukhramsinh Rathwa.
The agitation had gained momentum earlier this month when 22 MBBS students from the community were served notices by the Tribal Development Department, claiming that the caste certificates submitted by the students at the time of their admissions were invalid.
The district observed similar movements in 2013 and 2003.
A state notification in 1961 had stated that Rathwa tribe has traditionally been identifying itself as Koli, Rathwa-Koli, and a variation of other names which are to be considered as Rathwa for the issuance of tribal caste certificates.
However, in January 2010, the then tribal commissioner AK Tiwari had passed a government resolution invalidating all preceding notifications issued in connection with the status of Rathwa tribe.