Resentment among tribals may dim BJP's chances in land of 'Statue of Unity'
Kevadiya/Bodeli (Guj): They got a helipad, a four-lane road and many headlines with the Statue of Unity', billed as the world's largest, but real development has bypassed them with water scarcity, unemployment and inadequate healthcare making life a daily struggle for survival, say many tribals here.
Living under the shadow of the 182-metre statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel near the Narmada dam, development dominates the concerns of the tribal population, comprising a majority in the Chhota Udaipur parliamentary constituency.
Many tribals here said they are unhappy with the BJP-led government for its "failure" to fulfil promises. This may ultimately benefit the Congress in the elections being held on Tuesday.
Chhota Udaipur, which has over 16 lakh voters, is a reserved seat for Scheduled Tribes. The BJP, which has dropped its sitting MP Ramsinh Rathwa, has fielded local leader Geeta Rathwa, who will be fighting her first major election, against Congress' Ranjit Rathwa.
The imposing statue of India's first home minister, which attracts scores of tourists, has ironically become the focus of resentment with those living in the area saying they are yet to glimpse the development they were promised.
Umang Tadvi, a 29-year-old farmer, standing on a piece of land marked as a helipad outside Kevadiya village, said, "This is what we have received. A helipad for VIP choppers."
Kevadiya village is part of Narmada district and falls in Chhota Udaipur Lok Sabha constituency.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Statue of Unity on October 31 last year. At the time, some tribals held protests against the acquisition of their land for various developmental works near the statue.
"Though local tribals were promised jobs at the Statue of Unity, very few were given employment. Instead of the government, outsourcing agencies are doing the recruitment. We are offered a monthly salary of Rs 7,000 to 9,000, which is a pittance.
Further, we are asked to clean toilets, which no tribal will do. This development brought nothing for us," Tadvi said.
Another local, Ranjit Tadvi, agreed. There is no employment and many youths had migrated to Surat in search of work, he said.
Though Kevadiya village is now world famous for the Statue of Unity, there are no roads or drinking water facility in our village. We were not benefited by this statue. I am now working as a mason in Surat," he said.
According to Ramkrishna Tadvi of nearby Gora village, tribals living near the statue will not vote for the BJP this time.
"Over 7,000 voters living near the statue are not happy with the project, as several of them have lost their land for it. The BJP will have to suffer this time. Though we live near the (Narmada) dam, we are facing acute water shortage. We were not given jobs. Even I am working in a factory in Bharuch," he said.
Dr Praful Vasava, who has been leading a campaign against various projects coming up near the statue, said tribals from other parts of the constituency were also angry and would vote against the BJP in this election.
"This four-lane road between Dabhoi and the Statue of Unity was built just for the tourists, not for us. Many people lost their land due to this road too. Tribals are feeling helpless. We believe a large number of tribals of other parts of Chhota Udaipur will also vote against BJP," he said.
In the chorus of disapproval, there are many who claimed tribals need to accept reality and adapt to a changing world.
"Around 500 people from this area are earning well by selling food items and tea to tourists. Around 400 were given jobs as security guards or in housekeeping department. I am also working as a clerk at the tourist inquiry counter. Locals need to change their thinking," said Mahesh Tadvi.
People are also happy to see development in and around towns such as Tilakwada and Dabhoi.
"The government has built wide roads here. You can earn Rs 500 to Rs 800 per day opening roadside eateries or tea stalls. Many people are getting good income due to the tourist inflow. Prices of land have also gone up," said Arvind Sagar, who owns a small eatery on Dabhoi-Tilakwada road.
According to Congress' Rathwa, 53, the son of 10-time Congress MLA Mohansinh Rathwa, issues such as water scarcity, poor education and lack of jobs will be key issues in this election.
"Though Narmada canal passes through Chhota Udaipur, a large part of this area is still deprived of water. Instead of building a road till Kevadiya, the government should have built a canal network. Unemployment is also rampant. Farmers are unhappy as
they are not getting better MSP. I am confident people will put their trust on me this time," he said.
BJP's Geeta Rathwa, 47, is equally confident.
"I have been getting elected to Chhota Udaipur district panchayat since 1996. The rural population of this seat knows me very well. I am confident of winning," she said.
Ultimately, it is not just about parties but also deep-rooted cynicism.
In Naswadi village, for instance, many said they have no hope from any of the parties.
"Elections come and go,but our condition never improves. We are yet to see real development. We want proper roads, water for irrigation and health facilities. These are basic needs. But we wonder why no one pays attention on us," said a villager who did not wish to be named.
The Congress has won from Chhota Udaipur six times and BJP thrice, including in 2009 and 2014.
Gujarat votes on Tuesday in the third round of the seven-phase elections. PTI