Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who addressed a tribal gathering in Bodeli in Gujarat’s Chhota Udepur district on Sunday, declared a six-point guarantee for tribals, including the implementation of the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act 1996, which has been a contentious issue in the tribal belt.
Kejriwal also lashed out at the BJP government in the state over the recent deaths due to consumption of spurious liquor in Botad and Ahmedabad, and urged tribals to choose the AAP, “which will provide education and employment” to children or the BJP “which will make children drink poisonous liquor”.
Before departing for Bodeli, Kejriwal addressed media persons in Vadodara where he first announced the six-point guarantee for tribals if the AAP is voted to power in the upcoming Assembly polls. Later in Bodeli, he elaborated on each of the guarantees that pertain to issues on law, education, health, caste certificates, housing and roads.
The first of the six guarantees of the AAP to the tribals is the “strict implementation of PESA Act” along with the formation of a Tribal Advisory Council (TAC) headed by a tribal leader. Gujarat had notified the state PESA Rules with the promise that gram sabhas would have complete power to decide on matters related to their territories for safeguarding their customs, traditions as well as natural resources in tribal areas.
The implementation of PESA in areas notified under Schedule V of the Constitution has been a major contention of the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) – led by MLAs Chhotu Vasava and Mahesh Vasava – which has been advocating complete rights to tribal land owners. In fact, BTP chief Chhotu Vasava said the total implementation of PESA was an “absolute condition” for the alliance.
Speaking about PESA in his address in Bodeli, where Mahesh Vasava was also present, Kejriwal said, “It will be for the first time that a party will implement the Schedule V in tribal areas – the AAP will do it. We are aware that the Gujarat government has also passed the PESA law, but it has not been implemented on the ground. The PESA Act empowers the panchayat with absolute power… It says a panchayat is above the state Assembly and even the Parliament and the decision of the panchayat regarding issues of the land owned by the locals is final. We will show how PESA is implemented. The TAC will determine how much money should be spent in tribal areas and for what issues. The tribal community itself can state what is needed. Currently, the Chief Minister sits as the chairperson of the committee but what does he know about tribal issues.”
The AAP has also guaranteed state-of-the-art residential schools for tribal children in each district of Gujarat that will teach tribal history, language, culture, and traditions and also carry out research on these subjects. Besides, the party has promised a tribal university in the state. “I have been told that there is open sale of alcohol in villages, towns and cities of Gujarat. Who is selling alcohol for thousands of crores of rupees if there is a prohibition law in place in Gujarat? If you give them (BJP) your vote, they will make your children drink alcohol… and poisonous alcohol at that. If you vote for them (BJP), this business of illegal poisonous alcohol will continue,” Kejriwal said.
“But if you vote for me, I will make schools for your children and they will grow, like the children in Delhi have progressed. I will give them jobs like I have given jobs to children in Delhi,” he said, adding that along with leaders of the AAP and BTP, he has “chalked out a plan to provide 10 lakh employment opportunities” to tribal youths. “It is not the BJPs cup of tea… Only I can do it. If you bring me to power, you will get these jobs. Until the jobs are given, the AAP government will give Rs 3,000 unemployment stipend to youth.”
The AAP has also promised “modern mohalla clinics, like in Delhi” as well as hospitals and specialised treatment for sickle cell anaemia, thalassemia, and other illnesses specific to the tribal region of Gujarat. It has vowed to issue tribal caste certificates to “genuine” tribals who have been excluded from the list of notified Scheduled Tribes. Incidentally, the Tribal Development Department (TDD) of Gujarat issued a circular on August 4, ahead of Kejriwal’s visit, clarifying that the agitating Koli-Rathwa and Rathwa-Koli community will be considered under the listed Rathwa tribe of Chhota Udepur district. Officials of the state government told The Indian Express that the notification was not new but a reiteration of previous circulars. The AAP has also promised the construction of roads connecting villages in the remote areas of tribal districts in Gujarat.
Taking a dig at the BJP and Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel for “ignoring” the cries of the victims of spurious liquor, Kejriwal said, “The fact is that openly selling poisonous liquor in a state having prohibition law killed so many people. But what is even more unfortunate is that the chief minister of Gujarat did not even meet the victims in the hospital nor did they meet the families of those who died. Not everything is a vote bank… You people of Gujarat have given them (BJP) a full majority for 27 years but they did not even come to meet families even when there is a death in the family. A person who is not there with you in grief is not your friend.”
The AAP chief stressed that voters must “not vote for the Congress” as they are in a “relationship with the BJP”. Stating that the upcoming Assembly poll is only a contest between the AAP and the BJP, Kejriwal said, “The BJP and Congress have an ILU-ILU (love) relationship. They are together in everything. If you vote for Congress, they will go and sit with the BJP. Do not give Congress a single vote this time… vote for the AAP instead of Congress. Most people in Congress have already gone to the BJP, some will go during the election and those who will remain will go after the election… This election is between the AAP and the BJP. The AAP is a sincere, corruption-free, new hope and nationalist party. And BJP is a party supplying poisonous liquor.”
He also stressed on the “guarantee” of free electricity up to 300 units and asserted that 25 lakh families in Punjab were “pleasantly surprised and sending blessings to the AAP” after receiving zero electricity bills within three months of the party’s government formation in the state. “My guarantee is not an election manifesto… Even they (BJP and Congress) will come with their manifesto. I am not giving you a manifesto. I am giving you a five-year warranty – like you get a guarantee when you buy a TV. Kejriwal’s guarantee never breaks… Do you want free electricity in Gujarat? These (BJP) people are abusing me that Kejriwal is splurging money… Kejriwal is distributing revdi. But Kejriwal is not taking money to the Swiss Bank… They abuse me but I don’t care. I have an ILU-ILU (love) relationship with you.”
As he ended his speech, Kejriwal said, “I am a fakkad (bankrupt) and so is my party. I don’t have the money to fight an election. You (voters) have to fight the election for me. In the next three months, each person sitting here should prepare 100 voters to vote for the AAP.”
Meanwhile, pamphlets distributed at the venue in Bodeli has a list of the ‘savings’ every household will see for five years if the AAP is voted to power in Gujarat. In it, the party has calculated the total savings per household as Rs 11.13 lakh over five years, which includes an annual saving of Rs 27,600 from subsidised electricity, Rs 72,000 towards annual school fees of two children of a family, Rs 36,000 in healthcare benefits, Rs 17,000 towards free pilgrimage for aged persons as well as an income of Rs 36,000 for unemployed youth at the rate of Rs 3,000 per month and Rs 24,000 to be given to two adult females of each household at the rate of Rs 1,000 per month.
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Interestingly, the pamphlet also states that each household in Gujarat will also save Rs 10,000 spent on bribes annually because of a corruption-free AAP government that will not require families to bribe government officials.
Despite the AAP’s alliance with the BTP in Gujarat, the event did not display the BTP’s symbol. While hoardings on the way to Bodeli as well as that on the stage at the venue only had a photograph of Chhotubhai Vasava under the AAP symbol, even the attendees at the event were spotted wearing sashes only of the AAP.