Accusing the Ashok Gehlot-led Congress government of joining hands with its arch-rival Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) in the Panchayat polls, the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) withdrew its support from its ally Congress party.
In July this year, when the Congress government in Rajasthan was in crisis after an open rebellion by the former deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, the BTP then had extended its support to the ruling party. But within the six months, it not took away its support but also accused the Congress party in the public, for choosing BJP over it in the Zila Pramukh elections in Dungarpur. The BTP, which has two MLAs is miffed with Congress for the last few months due to three reasons- Congress not fulfilling the 17 point memorandum submitted by them during the crisis, the laxity of Congress government during the violence in Dungarpur in September, and alleged cheating by its major ally in the recent polls to elect members to local bodies at the district and village levels.
In the panchayat polls in Dungarpur Zila (district), the BTP won 13 seats in the Parishad, while the BJP got eight and Congress six. The BTP says that despite emerging as the single largest party, they could not form the 27-member board as the majority mark was 14 and its ally Congress helped BJP to win at three seats and BJP in return helped them to grab one seat. "During the Rajya Sabha polls held earlier this year, followed by the political turmoil in the state, we stood with the Congress party and extended our support to them. But when it was their turn, they behaved selfishly. They not only undermined our demands but also tried to sabotage us in the polls. None of our demands related to the welfare of tribals was met", BTP state president Velaram Ghoghra, who accused the Congress of joining hands with the BJP told Outlook. On Wednesday night, the BTP informed the Rajasthan Governor of withdrawing its support to the Congress party.
'BJP-Congress two sides of same coin' alleges BTP
The BTP founded in 2017, by seven-time Gujarat MLA Chhotubhai Vasava’s enjoys the support of Bhils (a sect of tribals in the southern Rajasthan). Before 2017 the tribals from this region were the traditional voters of the Congress party. However, in the 2018 assembly polls, the voters instead of voting for Congress showed a shift of preference by electing two MLAs from the BTP, for the first time. The emerging popularity of the tribal party has been giving a tough time to the Congress and the BJP in Rajasthan.
"When it comes to numbers, our exit may not affect the state government's majority, but it shows how two rivals Congress and BJP joined hands to keep the three-year-old party away from taking charge of a district-level board. Congress and BJP are sides of the same coin, hence proved", Ghogra added.
In the 200-member Rajasthan assembly, Congress has 105 MLAs, BJP-71, RLP-3, CPI (M)-2, BTP-2, RLD-1, and 13 legislators are independents and 3 seats are vacant, where by-polls will be held soon.
The BTP leaders also state the Congress' party's insecurity as one of the reasons for extending help to the BJP. "Congress is insecure about our improvised popularity among the tribals. This is why instead of supporting us (its ally), they chose to support their biggest rival BJP. The tribal community has lost trust in them as they were taken for granted by the Congress", Rajkumar Raot, BTP MLA from Dungarpur told Outlook. Kumar is one of the two MLAs who had posted a video of being stopped by the police from leaving the city during the political turmoil in July this year.
Took support from Congress to keep BTP at a bay which has the support of forces from Jharkhand: BJP
Interestingly while Congress is silent over the withdrawal of the support of its ally, the BJP accepts that it was an opportunity for them to support and accept help from the Congress party on the local level. "If Congress is not getting along with its ally it’s not our problem but instead it was an opportunity for us to win Zila Pramukh polls on three seats with their help. The state BJP has nothing to do with it. On a local level the leaders garner each other’s support from the ground", Satish Poonia, state unit head of BJPin Rajasthan told Outlook.
The BJP leaders who have publicly accused BTP of having Naxal connections see its loss in the Zila Pramukh polls as a big achievement. "We were always apprehensive of Tribal leaders getting support from the forces in Jharkhand, so we supported Congress and they supported us to keep BTP at a bay", leader of the opposition and senior BJP leader Gulab Chand Kataria told Outlook.
The BTP was founded by its chief Chhotubhai Vasava. The party is known to be supportive of Congress. In 2017 Vasava helped Congress leader Ahmed Patel to win through in a bitterly contested Rajya Sabha election. Vasva was still a member of Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal United at the time. He formed the BTP this year. After Gujarat, the party extended its support to Congress in Rajasthan until two weeks ago, Chhotubhai Vasava tweeted, 'BJP-Congress are one. BTP will withdraw support from the Rajasthan government."