Friday, Feb 03, 2023

In Gujarat tribal party’s father vs son fight, the AAP factor

BTP founder Mahesh Vasava moves to father Chhotubhai's seat, forces him out, faces accusations of “betrayal”, after AAP fields strong ex-BTP leader from Mahesh's 2017 constituency

Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) leader Chhotubhai Vasava (Left) and son Mahesh (Right) with Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at Chanderiya village in south Gujarat's Bharuch district. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

The entry of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) into the picture could be behind the piquant situation the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) finds itself in, with its top two leaders, Chhotubhai Vasava and son Mahesh, vying for the same seat.

On Monday, Chhotubhai, a seven-time MLA from Jhagadia in Bharuch district, filed his nomination from the seat as an Independent, two days after Mahesh, the BTP founder, had done so. While Mahesh is the sitting BTP MLA from Dediapada in Narmada district, he is believed to have moved to Jhagadia – the only ST reserved district in Bharuch district – as AAP has fielded a BTP defector from Dediapada.

The BTP and AAP had announced an alliance in May, which lasted only three months, till September. In October, four key BTP leaders, including Chaitar Vasava, moved to AAP. Chaitar, the BTP executive president, was considered a confidant of Mahesh. At the time of his resignation, he accused Mahesh of “ignoring tribal issues”.

Chaitar is now the AAP candidate from Mahesh’s 2017 seat, Dediapada, which might have forced Mahesh to look elsewhere. With Chhotubhai the seven-time winner from there, Jhagadia is the safest constituency by far for the BTP. In all, the BTP has declared candidates in over 22 seats — 18 of which are tribal constituencies. Of the state’s total 182 Assembly seats, 27 are reserved for tribals.

Subscriber Only Stories
JCB Prize for Literature 2022-winning translator Baran Farooqi on growing...
Delhi Confidential: Meet, greet and part in Parliament
In Jamtara, old panchayat buildings turned into libraries and study circl...
Budget 2023: Choosing the right tax regime

In 2017, in alliance with the Congress, the BTP had won just the father and son seats of Jhagadia and Dediapada. Now, with no tie-ups, the party is realistically hopeful of any Jhagadia.

Besides, Chaitar, who has a good following in Dediapada, has been actively campaigning in the seat since he secured the AAP ticket back in November, ahead of the announcement of the poll dates.

The surprising shuffle of candidates by the BTP came out in the open last week, after the party declared its second list, which named Mahesh as the candidate from Jhagadia and Bhadursinh Vasava from Dediapada, while leaving Chhotubhai out. At the time, Chhotubhai told The Indian Express that he had pulled out himself “to contest bigger polls in 2024”.


However, sources said, Chhotubhai tried to convince the party to bring him back from Jhagadia, finally deciding to fight as an Independent after the BTP did not yield. A Chhotubhai confidant, who has also quit the BTP, said: “Mahesh wanted Chhotubhai to let go of Jhagadia, as he was unsure of his chances from Dediapada… He was urging Chhotubhai to fight the Lok Sabha polls.”

The leader added: “In the absence of an alliance, and even candidates to field from other seats, the BTP can at best only pull off Jhagadia this time. And Mahesh knows that.”

On Monday, Chhotubhai told The Indian Express, “I have filed my nomination independently and I will also choose my symbol… Jhagadia is my constituency. Once I retain it, parties will come and support me.”


He stressed that this did not mean a split in the BTP even if another of his sons, Dilip, had also left the party, and was with Chhotubhai at the time of nomination filing. “We are confident of working things out. But, for now, I’ll continue my campaign as an Independent,” he said.

Chhotubhai also said that he would campaign in all its seats for the BTP, as “my goal of defeating the BJP has not changed”.

In a reference to his brother Mahesh, Dilip tweeted: “The National President of BTP and Bhilistan Tiger Sena (BTS) has disrespected Chhotubhai.”

This is what Chaitar is also going around telling voters. Calling Chhotubhai a “modern-day Birsa Munda”, he says Mahesh as the BTP national president “wrested control of the party from his father, who had given his sweat and blood to make it strong in tribal pockets”.

Thousands of BTP workers like him had quit the party, Chaitar says, over Mahesh’s “dictatorial attitude”.


He also accuses the BTP of encouraging nepotism. “Mahesh made his younger son Gaurav (19) the national youth president of the BTP, and his wife’s brother Paresh Vasava as vice-president and chief secretary,” he says, adding that in this family tussle, AAP will benefit.

Although Dilip and another son of Chhotubhai also harbour political ambitions, the eldest Mahesh, who was instrumental in the formation of the BTP and is seen as the party’s face, is considered the inheritor of the veteran’s legacy. But in Jhagadia, Dilip is acknowledged as the man who has built the party’s organisational strength.


Chhotubhai’s confidant Ambalal Jadav, the national vice-president of the BTP, praises Dilip saying he has told his father that he would only contest from Jhagadia when he “commands me to do so”. Jadav believes Mahesh not only felt insecure regarding his chances from Dediapada but also that “Chhotubhai might ask Dilip to contest from Jhagadia”.

On Friday, when Mahesh filed his nomination from Jhagadia, there were only a couple of supporters with him.


What is worrying BTP supporters is that the latest development is another setback for the party, which has lost some of its most promising leaders since 2019. Apart from Chaitar, they include Praful Vasava, also an AAP candidate in the coming elections (from Nandod in Narmada district) and London-educated Raj Vasava, who had contested the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as a BTP candidate.

Chhotubhai admitted the loss, but said the party would survive. “AAP has snatched away both my powerful men Praful and Chaitar, and a few others… They were lured by money and other things. But new people are joining the BTP daily, and the gap will be filled in the coming days.” He also said he was hopeful of resolving the current impasse soon. “Mahesh is my son, and I’m sure I’ll convince him and sort out the differences.”

The alliance with AAP was a bid by the BTP to reverse its electoral fortunes. In 2017, it had fought in alliance with the Congress, a pact largely forged on account of the 78-year-old Chhotubhai’s relationship with the late Ahmed Patel. It is widely believed that Chhotubhai’s vote as the lone JD(U) MLA had helped Patel win the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections. However, this time, talks with the Congress fell through after it refused to concede the BTP’s demand for 10 constituencies and offered only seven.

The BTP after that allied with the AIMIM for last year’s local body elections. Its poll campaign in Narmada district revolved around issues of tribal rights and the notification of an eco-sensitive zone comprising 121 villages.

After abstaining from voting in the June 2020 Rajya Sabha elections, the Vasava father and son in December announced that they were breaking from the Congress in two panchayat bodies in Narmada and Bharuch.

Clearly amused at the drama playing out in the BTP camp, Bharuch leader and BJP MP Mansukh Vasava said: “Mahesh won from Dediapada last time with the support of the Congress… Chaitar Vasava has now taken away 75% of the BTP foot soldiers in the seat to AAP. Afraid of losing his seat, Mahesh has switched to father Chhotubhai’s seat… There is no other safe seat for either Mahesh and Chhotu in the entire tribal belt.”

First published on: 15-11-2022 at 17:41 IST
Next Story

Jawaharlal Nehru port inks pact with JM Baxi for handing shallow water berth, coastal berth terminals

Latest Comment
Post Comment
Read Comments