Jhabua (MP), Nov 12 (PTI) What else we can do if not go to Gujarat and look for work, asks Ran Singh, 60, a resident of Madhya Pradesh's tribal-dominated Jhabua district.
Migration for want of employment opportunities is a key election issue in the Jhabua assembly constituency, a Congress stronghold.
"If we do not go to Gujarat, what else we would do? Our rocky land here does not yield much crop. We manage to grow just enough food grains for our own needs," said Singh when asked why people from the district migrate to the neighbouring state in large numbers.
Singh, who lives in a `faliya' (hamlet), around 50 km from the district headquarters, is preparing his small plot of land for Rabi sowing these days. The farmers here mainly cultivate cotton, millets and maize.
While the state assembly polls are less than a week away (November 17), there is no election atmosphere in Jhabua constituency, home to 3.13 lakh registered voters and reserved for Scheduled Tribes (ST).
Singh, who can not read or write, speaks Bheeli, a dialect of Hindi.
"I myself went to Gujarat many years ago to work as a cotton-picker. I returned to my farm later, but one or two persons from every house in our faliya is working in Gujarat," he said.
He makes about Rs 250 as a daily wage labourer in the surrounding areas. "In Gujarat, we get paid more, but one has to work day and night there,” he added.
The Congress has fielded state Youth Congress president Vikrant Bhuria, a trained doctor and the son of sitting MLA Kantilal Bhuria. His main opponent in the election is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party's Bhanu Bhuria.
Kantilal Bhuria, a prominent tribal leader, was a minister in the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre.
Vikrant alleged that the BJP government did nothing to increase employment opportunities in the tribal-dominated region during its 18-year rule in Madhya Pradesh.
"The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) scheme started by the UPA government had stopped the large-scale migration from the area, but tribal labourers are finding it difficult to get paid under MGNREGA schemes nowadays and are forced to migrate," he claimed.
BJP candidate Bhanu Bhuria said that Kantilal Bhuria has been representing the Jhabua area either in the assembly or Lok Sabha for the last 45 years. "But he did not pay any attention to taking measures for stopping migration," he alleged.
“If Kantilal Bhuria had got dams built on the rivers in Jhabua when the Congress was in power, tribal farmers would have got water for irrigation which could have stopped the migration," he added.
In the 2018 assembly elections, BJP's Guman Singh Damor defeated Vikrant Bhuria by 10,437 votes. Damor, a retired state government officer, resigned from the assembly in 2019 after winning from the Jhabua-Ratlam Lok Sabha constituency.
In the by-election that followed, Kantilal Bhuria snatched the Jhabua assembly seat back from the BJP by defeating Bhanu Bhuria by 27,804 votes. PTI HWP MAS KRK GK