AWAY from the mainstream political discourse ahead of the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, there is simmering anger among tribals in the state over difficulty in access to government welfare schemes, with Aadhaar glitches seen as the newest hurdle. However, while the ruling BJP appears to have missed this brewing discontent, the Congress doesn’t seem to have caught on either.
While tribals are unevenly distributed across Madhya Pradesh, one-fifth of the Assembly constituencies in the state (47 out of 230) are reserved for them. The BJP had won 31 of those seats in the 2013 elections.
“Jamane bhar ke kagjaat banwane pad raha hain. Jitna kaam nahin usse jyada pareshan ho banwane mein (We are being asked for all kind of paperwork. It’s too much trouble for the little that comes our way),” says Shivam Thakur, a Gond tribal from Sakri village in Sihora Assembly seat in Jabalpur district, which is held by the BJP.
As villagers gathered around him nod in agreement, Gopal Singh, a Gond tribal from Shahpura Assembly constituency in Dindori district (also held by the BJP), talks of the problems in trying to get Aadhaar details of family members corrected. “They need clear matching of names, surnames, and dates of birth. This requires updating Aadhaar. It doesn’t happen in a single attempt. We have to travel several times to get the details updated. Even a simple thing like scholarship for our schoolchildren has become an ordeal.”
Similar complaints are heard in tribal constituencies across Khandwa, Betul, Chhindwara, Umaria, Mandla, Jabalpur, Shahdol and Dindori districts, many of them located in inaccessible, remote areas with poor connectivity. Additionally, villagers say, when they make the journey to centres to get their details updated, spending time and money, they find fingerprint authentication at banks failing, hindering access to their own money.
“There are middlemen charging 10 per cent of loan amount to facilitate processing our loan requests at banks. What is the point of having a 0 per cent interest farm loan scheme when we have to pay this cut?” says Shatru Kunjam, a tribal from the BJP-held Niwas Assembly constituency in Mandla district.
While in some tribal constituencies there is awareness about welfare schemes by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for them, in many others, the tribal anger is translating into nostalgia for the Congress. This sentiment runs across constituencies in Khandwa, Betul, Mandla, Dindori and Shahdol districts, with support for the Congress more visible here compared to other areas.
“Abki baar Rahul Gandhi ke jeet ki charcha hai (This time, there is talk of Rahul Gandhi winning),” asserts Nand Kishore, a Khorku tribal at Kalighodi, deep inside Satpura forests in Khandwa district, who adds that in 2013, he had voted for the BJP. Such favourable references to Rahul should worry the BJP, given how Indira Gandhi’s lasting popularity among tribals still comes handy for the Congress all these years later.