Two MLAs of Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) — Chhotu Vasava from Jhagadia constituency in Bharuch and his son Mahesh from Dediapada constituency in Narmada — abstained from voting in the Rajya Sabha polls on Friday, thus paving the way for BJP’s victory on three of the four seats as well as Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil’s win on one.
Chhotu, who has been backing the tribal protests in Kevadia against the land acquisition made by the government owned company Sardar Sarovar Narmada Nigam Ltd. (SSNNL), said that the party was left with no choice but to abstain from the crucial vote.
Both Chhotu and Mahesh arrived in Gandhinagar on Friday morning but announced that they would abstain from voting unless they get an assurance from the contesting parties — Congress and BJP– about the implementation of Schedule 5 of the Constitution of India and also the Panchayats Extensions to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act to protect tribal rights across the country.
While veteran Congress leaders were in touch with the BTP leaders to request support in order to forge an outside path for the victory of the party’s second candidate Bharatsinh Solanki, the BJP appointed Bharatsinh Parmar to hold closed doors meeting with the father and son duo to either have them vote for the BJP or abstain. The latter happened.
Chhotu said, “Our demand from both the parties is to implement the Schedule V of the Constitution and also the PESA Act to protect the interests of the tribals but unfortunately, both of them have shown no interest in the issue… My letters to both Narendra Modi from BJP and Sonia Gandhi from Congress regarding tribal rights have been unheeded.”
While Gujarat has implemented the Schedule 5 of the Constitution as well as PESA, the tribal leader says the law is only on paper. “What they (Gujarat government) are doing in Kevadia by snatching away lands from tribals against their will and labelling them as encroachers is against the spirit of the law. They want to exploit tribals for their commercial gains. If they want to make hotels on tribal lands in Kevadia around Statue of Unity, they can do so and make the tribal landholder the owner of the hotel. Why sell the land off to industrial millionaires?” Chhotu said.
The 73-year-old veteran tribal leader is also bitter about the “backstabbing” by the Congress ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls when the Congress fielded a candidate against Chhotu from the Bharuch parliamentary constituency.
“The Lok Sabha wound is still fresh. The Congress did not support me despite knowing that in 2017 Rajya Sabha polls, Congress and Ahmed Patel won the election only because of my vote. This time the stakes were higher for them but they backstabbed me during Lok Sabha instead of backing me to return the 2017 favour.” The Congress had fielded a 34-year-old youth Congress leader to take on sitting BJP MP Mansukh Vasava and Chhotu Vasava in Bharuch in the general polls of 2019.
When asked about the direct benefit the abstinence would bring to the BJP, Vasava said, “I don’t think it would have changed anything. The Congress is in doldrums anyway with just 65 MLAs. Their own people don’t want to vote for them. The BJP was going to win three seats with or without our vote to the Congress. So, our abstinence has not helped the BJP win. It is our way of showing our protest and displeasure at the politics that these two parties play with poor landholders of tribal communities.”
This morning, with 172 MLAs set to vote — until the Vasavas announced abstinence — each of the four candidates needed 35.5votes to win their seats.
The BJP has been in a comfortable position with 103 MLAs and the backing from NCP’s lone MLA Kandhal Jadeja, who had earlier announced his support to the BJP despite the NCP whip for Congress.
The Congress on the other hand with 65 MLAs and one vote from Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani would still only be assured of one seat — of the first preferential candidate Shaktisinh Gohil.
What is Schedule 5 of the Constitution?
The Fifth Schedule of the Constitution pertains to the special powers and provisions for the administration and control of Scheduled Areas as well as of Scheduled Tribes in the states of the country, but excluding Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
The Governor of states implementing Schedule 5 has the power to inquire into the administration of Scheduled Areas and also send reports of the same to the President of India.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines