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In Madhya Pradesh politics, Dalit-OBC-Adivasis fail to make their numbers count

Adivasis form 22 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s electorate, Dalits 17 per cent, and OBCs – according to a recent survey by the Backward Classes Welfare Commission – 48 per cent. But they have failed to steer electoral politics to their advantage, writes Manish Bhatt Manu

Do political outfits that focus on issues pertaining to Dalits and Adivasis have a decisive role in Madhya Pradesh? Or is their role of a different nature? Is their presence benefitting any of the mainstream parties? If yes, which among them? These are the key questions as the state goes to the polls next month.  

With the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) having forged an electoral alliance recently, and the Congress promising a caste census if voted to power, these questions assume an added significance, especially since no party, other than the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress, has acceptability among the people at large in the state. Especially after the 2008 elections, most of these parties that seek the Dalit and Adivasi vote have been banking on former Congress and BJP leaders, who, having failed to secure nominations from their respective parties, have entered the electoral arena holding the flags of these parties aloft. Besides the BSP and the GGP, the Samajwadi Party (SP) also falls in the same slot.   

In 2003, the GGP had won three assembly constituencies, but it was more the victory of the candidates than of the party. They included Darbu Singh Uike, who won from the Paraswara (general) constituency in Balaghat district and late Manmohan Singh Batti, who bagged the Amarwara reserved constituency in the same district. Interestingly, in the 2018 assembly polls, as many as 114 unrecognized registered political parties were also in the fray, which together garnered 13,27,994 votes. The BSP, SP and GGP polled 30,83,315 votes cumulatively. In the same elections, the victory margin of 18 candidates was less than 2,000 votes. Among them, 10 candidates had won by 1000 or less votes, of which seven were from the Congress and three from the BJP. Of the remaining eight victorious candidates, five were from the BJP.  

How BJP, SP and GGP fared in assembly polls

% votesNo of seats% votesNo of seats% votesNo of seats

Source: Election Commission of India 

Adivasis form 22 per cent of Madhya Pradesh’s electorate and Dalits are another 17 per cent. Of the 230 assembly seats in the state, 47 are reserved for the STs (Scheduled Tribes or Adivasis) and 35 for SCs (Scheduled Castes or Dalits). That adds up to 82. The remaining 148 seats are unreserved. According to a survey by the Pichhda Varga Kalyan Aayog (Backward Classes Welfare Commission) at the instance of the state government, the OBCs form 48 per cent of the state’s population. They decide the winner in 61 seats of the Gwalior-Chambal, Bundelkhand, Malwa, Bhopal and Hoshangabad regions. Thus, in 143 of the 230 constituencies, the SC, ST and OBC communities decide the winner. Then, there are constituencies which have a fair number of Muslim voters. However, their influence and representation in the state’s polity has been witnessing a precipitous fall.

Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs are on the margins in the politics of Madhya Pradesh

The OBC castes have a decisive role in the outcome of the state assembly polls. Yet, it is not clear which caste Kamal Nath, who holds the reins of the Congress in the state, comes from. Kamal Nath himself has consistently skirted questions on his caste. However, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, who has been the BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in three consecutive assembly elections, is an OBC. 

Many other political groupings are also keen to enter the poll arena waving the Dalitbahujan flag – so much so that let alone a third, even a fourth and a fifth front are emerging in the state. The BSP-GGP combine has already announced that BSP will field its candidates in 178 and GGP in 52 constituencies, respectively. 

In the 2018 polls, the BSP candidates were the runners-up in Jaura, Devtal, Gwalior Rural, Pohri, Rampur Baghelan and Sabalgarh constituencies while in 36 constituencies, they had to remain content with the third position. As for the GGP, none of its candidates has won after 2003, though its vote share has been consistently climbing. 

OBC Mahasabha, Azad Samaj Party (Bhim Army) and others are also planning to throw their hats in the ring. However, with GGP founder Manmohan Shah Batti’s daughter Monika joining the BJP, the party is on the verge of extinction in the state.  

In view of the growing clout of Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), the Congress has decided to field Dr Hiralal Alawa as its candidate once again from Manwar. Keen to win a wider base, Alawa is already talking in terms of forging a front. In December last year, JAYS had organized a Sarva Samaj Sammelan in Bhopal, which witnessed participation by the heads of more than 10 political and social organizations, besides many bodies representing different communities and scores of former MLAs and MPs. However, JAYS now has two factions – one led by Alawa and other by Dr Anand Rai, who took membership of Bharat Rashtra Samiti (BRS) on June 7 this year.

All said and done, Madhya Pradesh is among the few states in the country with a bipolar polity. No third force has been able to strike roots in the state and the voters, too, have been backing one of the two parties. This is not to say that no leader outside the BJP or the Congress has won an election. To be sure, socialists like Mama Baleshwar Dayal, Purushottam Kaushik, Yamuna Prasad Shastri and H.V. Kamath and left-wing leaders like Homi Daji, Shakir Ali and Ramlakhan Sharma did win convincingly. SP and BSP candidates have also won. In fact, one of the early Lok Sabha MPs of the BSP was elected from the Rewa constituency. The voters even sent Shabnam Mausi, a transgender, to the assembly to express their disillusionment with all political outfits. Katni and Sagar have had transgender mayors. In 2003, Darbu Singh Uike was elected from the Paraswada unreserved constituency defying all predictions. The voters also snubbed GGP MLAs after it became clear that they were sitting in the lap of the ruling BJP. 

To sum up, different fronts and parties may enter the fray in the upcoming elections but that is unlikely to yield any unexpected results, the reason being that the parties that count on the Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs for their survival are themselves divided.

(Translation from the original Hindi by Amrish Herdenia)

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

About The Author

Manish Bhatt Manu

Manish Bhatta Manu is a Bhopal-based journalist. He has been associated with the Hindi daily 'Deshbandhu' for a long time and has regularly contributed to other newspapers and magazines on issues concerning Adivasis

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