Jaipur: A new political outfit -- formed by tribal leaders following a split in the Bharatiya Tribal Party -- has thrown the gauntlet to the BJP and the Congress in Rajasthan's tribal belt, forcing senior leaders of the two national parties to make frequent visits in their attempts to shore up support ahead of the assembly polls.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, among others, have made several visits to the tribal region in an attempt to solidify their parties' support bases.
Assembly elections in Rajasthan are due later this year.
On Monday, Modi will visit Chittorgarh district, which has a sizable tribal population, and address a public rally.
Deputy Leader of Opposition in the Rajasthan Assembly Satish Poonia laid focus on the region and made regular visits to the tribal areas during his tenure as the BJP's state unit chief.
His successor CP Joshi, a Brahmin face, is the party's Lok Sabha MP from Chittorgarh.
Banswara, Dungarpur and Pratapgarh are fully tribal districts while Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Sirohi, Pali are partly tribal areas in the state's southeast.
The new outfit -- the Bharatiya Adivasi Party -- is managed by youngsters, similar to the Gujarat-based Bharatiya Tribal Party, which won two seats in the 2018 assembly elections.
Its formation caused a complete split in the Bharatiya Tribal Party, with most supporters and leaders jumping ship to the new outfit. The Bharatiya Adivasi Party's formation was announced in September by MLAs Rajkumar Roat and Ramprasad Dindor -- who won the 2018 polls on a Bharatiya Tribal Party ticket.
Only a few leaders, including state unit chief Velaram Ghoghra, have remained with the Bharatiya Tribal Party .
The new outfit is already drawing huge crowds of tribal people to its meetings, reflecting its influence in the region.
Local BJP leaders also believe that the Bharatiya Adivasi Party is now the leading force in the tribal belt.
MLA Roat told PTI, "We have formed a new organisation to work for the tribal people. We will be fielding Bharatiya Adivasi Party candidates from around 18 seats in the region." He claimed the Bharatiya Tribal Party, which he and many others had joined ahead of the 2018 polls on the basis of its ideology -- no longer worked along the expected lines, leading to the split.
"We will try to defeat both the Congress and the BJP," he said.
Roat said if the Bharatiya Tribal Party does not interfere in the 17-18 seats where his party will contest, the Bharatiya Adivasi Party will not interfere in Gujarat.
"We appeal to all regional parties that (we) all have one objective and we should not fight among ourselves. We have asked the Bharatiya Tribal Party not to interfere in the Rajasthan assembly elections and we will not interfere in Gujarat," he said.
"If they do not consider this, then the party with a clear vision and a strong ideology will move ahead. Our vision is clear and ideology strong and we will move ahead," the legislator from Chorasi in Dungarpur added.
The BJP also sees the Bharatiya Adivasi Party's emergence as a challenge.
Leaders of the saffron party believe they cannot solely rely on anti-incumbency against the state government in this region where educated tribal youngsters associated with the Bharatiya Adivasi Party are proactive and mobilising people towards it.
"The Congress' existence in the region is on the verge of extinction. The Bharatiya Adivasi Party is leading in the region while the Congress will finish third in the assembly elections (in the tribal belt)," local BJP leader and former minister Sushil Katara said.
The Bharatiya Adivasi Party is capitalising on the sentiments of the tribal people, he added.
"They are educated, active on social media and mobilising the tribal people in their favour," Katara, who was defeated by Roat in the 2018 polls, said.
Both Roat and Dindor had supported the Gehlot dispensation during the 2020 political crisis, caused by a rebellion by his then deputy Sachin Pilot. They had also supported the Congress candidates in the Rajya Sabha elections.
Ghoghra, the Bharatiya Tribal Party's Rajasthan unit chief, however, said the tribal region did not gain anything from it.
He blamed the split in the party to the "egoistic approach" of some leaders, apparently referring to Roat and Dindor and their supporters.
"They may have announced a new party but the Bharatiya Tribal Party will contest from more than 20 seats in Dungarpur, Banswara, Pratapgarh, Pali and Barmer," he said.
He attributed the frequent visits to the region by Modi, Gandhi and other leaders to the impact of the Bharatiya Tribal Party.
"No matter how hard they try, the tribal people will not vote for them," he said.
A Congress leader from Banswara district, however, said the state government worked to develop the region and said the party will have an edge in the elections.
"The chief minister recently cleared a proposal to prepare a detailed project report to develop Mangarh Dham, a sacred place for the tribal people in Banswara, as a national monument. He also announced development works at the 'dham' at a cost of Rs 100 crore in August," the Congress leader said.
Local leaders said employment opportunities, infrastructure development and proper implementation of constitutional provisions with regard to the tribal population will be the key poll issues.
Rajasthan's tribal belt, comprising the Vagad and the Mewar regions, has 37 assembly seats. Of these, the BJP holds 20 and the Congress 11 while three seats were won by Independent candidates in the 2018 polls.
One seat in Udaipur is vacant since Gulab Chand Kataria -- the sitting MLA -- was appointed as Assam governor earlier this year. Roat and Dindor are the two other members of the House from the region.