Jaipur: For four days towards the end of September, Dungarpur in south Rajasthan saw a violent stir with thousands of tribal youth blocking the Delhi-Mumbai highway and indulging in vandalism and arson.
The youth were demanding filling up of 1167 vacant posts of teachers under general quota from the ST quota.
The agitation was on for 18 days but the government did not pay heed and it ultimately resulted in a violent clash with the police forces on September 24, leaving two people dead and 45 police personnel injured.
Ashok Gehlot’s government under fire with opposition parties reprimanding the administration and intelligence to control the situation.
While peace has returned to the area, the role of the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) and people from Jharkhand has come under the scanner. Dungarpur collector Kana Ram said that the violence was fanned by people from the neighbouring states who were influenced by a particular ideology.
A report by the intelligence department also pointed out attempts to radicalise tribal youth. Officials say some naxal leaders from Jharkhand are active in the tribal belt and locals have attended chintan shivirs organised by naxals from Jharkhand.
According to a senior police official who did not want to be named, people from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh as well as leaders of the BTP had a role in inciting the violence.
BTP’s growing influence
The BTP took shape in Rajasthan ahead of the 2018 assembly elections. The party won on two of 200 assembly seats. However, its political influence in the regions has been growing, especially among youth.
The BTP found support for its political agenda which includes creation of a separate Bhil Pradesh in the tribal dominated contiguous region in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, a separate family code and reservation for tribals locally.
It has also been opposing attempts being made by the BJP and RSS to bring tribals under the Hindu-fold as well as conversion activities by Christian missionaries. The BTP wants to revive tribal culture and icons and its leaders have asked people to shun Hindu prayers and cultural practices.
BJP leader and former state home minister Gulab Chand Kataria said there is an attempt by BTP in league with naxals from Jharkhand to radicalise the peace loving tribal population of Rajasthan.
Development lag in tribal areas
Political analyst Narayan Bareth maintained that such developments are indicated that the peaceful region could soon be converted into a fertile ground that could facilitate the growth of extremism.
He said that decades of neglect by successive governments and the rise of the Bharatiya Tribal Party had created a sentiment of alienation among the tribals.
“Rajasthan society is different from Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. People here shun extremes and have faith in institutions so violent ideology has not taken root here. But if the government does not implement constitutional provisions for the Scheduled Areas and strengthen institutions, it will be a problem,” Bareth pointed out.
Eight districts of Rajasthan – Dungarpur, Banswara, Pratapgarh, Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Sirohi and Pali fall under the Scheduled Areas where the tribal population is over 50 percent.
“The allocation of funds to the tribal sub-plan is generally below the prescribed norms and there is no proper monitoring of funds which often lapse,” said Velaram Ghoghra, state president of the BTP.
The concept of TSP was to channelize funds and make special plans for the tribal areas so they could have access to health, education, income generation and employment.
Ghoghra said, “Successive governments have failed to bring basic amenities such as sadak, bijli, pani to these areas. Health and education infrastructure is poor and there is hardly any industry or employment opportunity.
According to the Budget Analysis and Research Centre Trust, the allocation to the tribal sub-plan (TSP) for the period between 2013-14 and 2016-17 ranged between 7 and 10 per cent of the total budget in Rajasthan, much below 13.5% prescribed under the government guidelines,
Nesar Ahmad, founder director at BARC, said, “The budget spent on tribal areas in the state should be around 13.5 per cent, which has been decided on the basis of tribal people and total population ratio in the Census 2011.”
“However, the allocation has remained well below the figure of 13.5 percent. This means each year the tribal areas are being denied crores of rupees meant for their development,” he mentioned.
Ghoghra stressed upon the fact that tribals are slowly becoming aware how they have been exploited and are raising their voice and demanding their rights. He said, “The constitution provides for autonomy of tribal areas to prevent our culture from outside invasion.”
BTP MLA Rajkumar Roat accused the Congress and BJP of a witch-hunt. “The BJP and Congress are terming us as naxals to suppress us because they are fearful of our influence,” Roat reasoned.
Bareth summed up that while there seemed to be no imminent threat of naxalism spreading its root in the tribal belt but the government needed to be alert and proactive.
In 2019, tribals residing in Jharkhand and Chattisgarh too had protested against their respective government for the lack of work in their areas, but they had chosen to do Pathalgadi (erecting walls in the entrance of village and not allowing any official without permission or in other words, making their sovereign territory). They had demanded proper implementation of PESA Act in the tribal areas.