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NAGPUR: For the first time, Vidarbha in Maharashtra may see a consolidation of its tribal vote. The newly carved Gadchiroli-Chimur has become the region’s first and only tribal Lok Sabha constituency after delimitation.
Like the Dalit vote, tribals form a significant vote base in Vidarbha. In the last Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena combine swept 10 of the 11 seats there. This victory stands the BJP in good stead in the tribal block of Gadchiroli-Chimur. It was pieced together with the three Assembly segments in Gadchiroli district — Aheri, Armori and Gadchiroli; two from Chandrapur district — Chimur and Brahmapuri; and Deori in Gondia district.
The ST seat will see a contest among Ashok Nete of the BJP, Marotrao Kowase of the Congress and Satyawan Raje Atram of the Bahujan Samaj Party.
A distinct advantage for Mr. Nete are his consecutive victories in the 1999 and 2004 Assembly elections in Gadchiroli; he defeated the Congress candidates Tulshiram Raoji and Kowase.
In Chandrapur, the Congress and BJP’s share of victories has been equal since 1996, the latter being the winner in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
Chimur is an important component of the constituency, as it was a Lok Sabha seat till 2004. Since 1996, Chimur has voted for the BJP in three general elections, except in 1998 when Republican Party of India’s Jogendra Kawade won. In 2004, he lost to the BJP candidate.
The Congress owes its presence in Chimur to MLA Vijay Wadettiwar, a former Sena member. However, he was booked under the Atrocity Act for allegedly hitting a woman Zilla Parishad member recently.
Tribal groups called a bandh after the incident.
Tribals in Vidarbha traditionally voted for the Congress.
However, the tide began to turn since the beginning of the 1990s. This was true of the region at large. Academician Raju Mishra, in his book ‘Janadesh (Vidarbha 1957 to 1998),’ observes of Gadchiroli: “It is clear that since the last two to three elections [1985, 1990 Vidhan Sabha], the voter in the district has been looking for an alternative to the Congress.”
Rebellion and factionalism in the party struck at its root in the whole of Vidarbha. The Sena and the BJP were quick to take advantage. The year 1995 was a watershed in the overturning of the Congress’ run in the region. Dr. Mishra says the BJP “cashed in” on the sentiment, at the time, that Maharashtra’s leaders had left Vidarbha in the lurch. Based on its demand for a separate State of Vidarbha, the BJP won the people’s trust.
Gadchiroli, a reserved ST Vidhan Sabha seat, too showed signs of change. While the Congress ruled the roost here till 1990, it could only keep itself afloat in the 1995 Assembly election, after which the BJP took over.
Showing some consistency towards the Congress, the two other ST constituencies — Sironcha (taluk in Gadchiroli) and Armori — have hesitated to make a switch. Sironcha has never voted for the Sena or the BJP, and Armori has dallied between the Sena and the Congress. However, it is uncertain how much of damage they can do to the BJP. The party can still count on the unreserved Brahmapuri segment, which seemed to have turned towards the Sena and the BJP, after 1990.
After its downturn in Vidarbha, the Congress has not been able to raise its head. According to Kowase, the party has been making its mark in the Corporation elections in Brahmapuri and by entering Deori’s Amangaon after 15 years. In Gadchiroli-Chimur, the atmosphere is in favour of the Congress, he says, citing some developmental work.
But these are feeble indications, and they hardly seem to be daunting to the BJP.
The BSP, which finished third in Bhandara, Chandrapur and Chimur in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, has gained in numbers
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