Surrounded by supporters outside his home in Dharoli village, Chhotubhai Vasava, seven-time MLA from Jhagadia constituency, dons a pensive look. He managed to convince his son Mahesh Vasava to withdraw nomination from the seat as a Bharatiya Tribal Party candidate. Chhotubhai is the founder of the party, while Mahesh is the president.
As the tug-of-war between the father-son duo became the only talking point of the party’s election campaign, the family stepped in to ensure the seat is not lost forever. Mahesh, the MLA from neighbouring Dediapada, withdrew his Jhagadia nomination at the 11th hour.
Having already filed his nomination to one-up his son during their feud, Chhotubhai is contesting as an Independent candidate from his bastion, which effectively means there is no official BTP candidate from the constituency.
Vasava Sr, who enjoys considerable political and social clout not just on his seat but even in the surrounding areas, will be contesting against Ritesh Vasava, who has been fielded by the BJP. It may not be an intra-family fight anymore but is a hotly contested one nevertheless.
The BJP has thrown all its might behind Ritesh Vasava, with Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and BJP MP Nishikant Dubey campaigning for him on Friday.
The BJP has never won the Jhagadia Assembly seat and is looking to land a debut this time. “We have won three talukas in civic polls here that used to be won by Vasavas. We certainly hope to win this seat and write a new chapter in the political life of Chhotubhai Vasava,” said Nishikant Dubey, BJP MP from Godda in Jharkhand, who is campaigning for the party’s candidate.
The Jhagadia constituency has 2.54 lakh voters, out of whom, 1.85 lakh are from tribal communities.
‘Modi Vasava’ Versus Chhotu Vasava?
While Vasava is a popular surname here, many in the constituency would not necessarily know who the BJP candidate is. So who do they know? An octogenarian woman waiting with five family members to get a glimpse of Yogi Adityanath in Walia area of Jhagadia says: “Ab ki baar Modi Vasava.”
Chhotu Vasava, 78, however, is confident he will retain his constituency. In his trademark style of campaigning, Vasava sat with supporters outside his house. When asked if he would not go out and campaign as the BJP already has a Yogi’s Sabha underway, Vasava senior says: “We will meet people in villages in the evening. Come with us, we will tell you what meetings should look like. We do not want ‘encounter politics’ in Gujarat.”
Fight to Claim Tribal Votes
While the BJP has been celebrating tribal icons and leaders in a bid to win over the community, BTP founder Vasava claims it was he who got Bhagwan Birsa Munda’s Bhawan in Ahmedabad in 1995.
Bitter about the BJP’s attempt to breach his bastion, the seven-time MLA alleged the saffron party plans to take over lands of tribals and give them to multi-national corporations. “We are fighting to protect our constitution that cannot be implemented properly because of the BJP. The Congress too has come from RSS, just like BJP. There are constitutional issues, issues of unemployment and inflation and looting of our lands. We have been looted,” said Chhotubhai Vasava.
He says the BJP is a “party of Aryans who have come from outside” and that tribals are the original residents of the country.
The Gujarat Assembly is spread over 182 constituencies, out of which 27 are Scheduled Tribe seats. The Congress had won 16 of these, whereas the BJP had won eight in the last elections. One seat was won by an Independent and the BTP had bagged two seats, one each for the senior and junior Vasava.
Bhils Versus ‘Desi Christians’
Bhils have a significant presence in many tribal seats and other constituencies. The BTP claims the BJP candidate in Jhagadia is a ‘desi Christian’ and had in his affidavit claimed himself to be a Bhil Hindu tribal. Mahesh Vasava had appealed to the Returning Officer to cancel the candidature of Ritesh Vasava, but was turned down. According to BJP leaders, there are 25,000 ‘desi Christians’ in the constituency.
AAP’s Role in Fragmented BTP
With the AAP’s entry in Gujarat elections, many BTP leaders who were nurturing ticket aspirations found a party to back them as candidates. One of the two seats the BTP won last time was Dediapada, where this time one of the Vasava’s close aides is contesting on AAP symbol.
AAP candidate Chaitar Vasava has reportedly claimed that it was because of him that Mahesh Vasava, who won the seat in 2017, is not contesting this time.
Fissures in the Family?
“We have not just broken Chhotu Vasava’s BTP, but have crushed it. Majority of us who have worked closely with him have left because the father-son duo is autocratic. We have rallied youngsters with us who have aspirations,” says Ritesh Vasava.
Ask Chhotu Vasava why he has to contest the election as an Independent and pat comes the reply: “We are not Independent. We have the whole abadi behind us.” Vasava senior adds that both his sons will campaign for him.
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