Ahmedabad: The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has emerged as a direct challenger to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which clinched 23 out of 27 Scheduled Tribe seats in Gujarat. The new entrant in the state’s politics was in a direct fight with the ruling party in nine ST-reserved seats. Although AAP could win only one seat, and the Congress could win merely three seats, tribals seem to have found a new political ally in the Aam Aadmi Party.  

The Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP), which had in 2017 polls won two seats in alliance with the Congress, failed to open its account as it contested all 24 seats. Congress and BTP fought this election independently. 

Cashing in on the split in opposition votes among the Congress, the BTP, and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the ruling BJP more than doubled its seat tally from the 2017 Assembly polls. AAP candidate Chaitar Vasava defeated BJP’s Hitesh Vasava on the Dediapada seat, polling 1.02 lakh votes, the highest votes for an AAP candidate in this election. 

In Jhagadia, seven-time MLA Chhotu Vasava was defeated by BJP candidate Ritesh Vasava. Congress held on to Vansda and Danta seats. It managed to wrest control on Khedbrahma, where tribal leader Tushar Chaudhary defeated Ashvin Kotwal, who had held the seat on a Congress ticket until he switched to BJP.

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AAP candidates fought “honestly” in areas where the distribution of liquor and money swayed voters, said Arjun Rathwa, who contested from Chhota Udepur. Rathwa polled a decent number of votes, 43,880, but lost to Rajendrasinh Rathwa, son of veteran tribal leader Mohansinh Rathva. 

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Rathwa told PTI, “Several of our leaders polled an impressive number of votes and emerged as direct challengers to BJP even when we did not resort to distributing money and liquor like they did,” adding “People have started recognizing AAP in the belt, and we will continue to work for them.”

AAP has seriously hurt Congress in a belt that was once considered a stronghold of the grand old party, showing that the tribal population is thinking differently. The Scheduled Tribe communities constitute around 14 percent of the state’s population and are spread along its eastern belt with 27 seats in the 182-member assembly reserved for them. 

Since 1995, this is only the third time that the BJP’s tally in the Scheduled Tribe reserved constituencies has surpassed that of Congress. Both Congress and AAP promised to implement the Panchayats (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) (PESA) Act when voted to power in the state. Kejriwal even promised to ensure that the tribal advisory committee under the Act will be headed by a member of the community. 

The Congress traditionally enjoyed tribal support through a network of institutions working in the region for education and social reforms. 

The BJP made inroads in recent years, hard selling its Hindutva plank, besides highlighting development work done by its government through the allocation of a special budget for the tribal-inhabited areas.

Although the AAP fielded its candidates for all Assembly seats in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, it kept its prime focus on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state where it has been able to build a few strongholds in recent years. 

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The party gained ground in the BJP-ruled Gujarat after it won 27 seats in the 2021 Surat Municipal Corporation elections. The Congress, which had 36 councillors, lost all the seats in the civic body election. 

According to reports, the AAP plans to contest in most of the states going to polls next year. These states include Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan and BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. The AAP is also strategizing to contest elections in Jammu and Kashmir, likely to be held early next year.

(With PTI/ANI Inputs)

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India 4 Kashmir is a Pan-India movement to reclaim our lost ground and rehabilitate common Indians in Kashmir with dignity and honour.

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