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Statue of Unity has been of no use … Rs 3,000 crore spent on it should have been used for tribal welfare: BTP founder

Bharatiya Tribal Party leader Chhotubhai Vasava tells The Indian Express that Congress and BJP leaders have met him since he severed ties with AAP last week, but at the moment he cannot trust either side.

The alliance between the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Bharatiya Tribal Party (BTP) was expected to strengthen anti-BJP forces in Gujarat in the run-up to the coming Assembly elections. But the ties between the two parties broke down and the BTP on September 12 announced the end of the alliance.

In an interview to The Indian Express, BTP founder Chhotubhai Vasava, the MLA from Jhagadia in Bharuch district, talks about the reason why he parted ways with the AAP, why he is pushing for the implementation of the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, or PESA, how the Congress “cheated” his party, the BJP, and his aspirations for the BTP.

Excerpts:

What led to the end of ties with the AAP after a rather promising start?

I did not have a great feeling about it right from the time we first met (Arvind Kejriwal) in New Delhi … It was never promising but we would not have known until we came together. We made a joint announcement at the Chanderiya rally (in Bharuch) in May (when Kejriwal also visited Vasava’s house for lunch). When you are talking to someone about a tie-up, you can’t decide immediately unless you give them a chance. Over time, it becomes clear whether the partnership is viable or not.

We saw their education and health models in New Delhi. The free electricity promise was also a factor. We thought they would be able to do something good for the people. They (BJP) have been in power for over 27 years and have not done anything for the people of Gujarat. So we thought the AAP would be a good ally.

I did not attend the Bodeli rally (in Chhota Udepur on August 7) but my son, MLA Mahesh Vasava (of Dediapada, and BTP president), was there. We were supposed to announce the guarantees together … There were 14 points for consideration. But they went ahead and announced six of them alone.

It was your friendship with the late Congress leader Ahmed Patel that held your alliance with the Congress for very long.

But in the end, he (Patel) cheated me. We were friends, I even voted for him in the 2017 Rajya Sabha polls and he won. But when I contested for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Bharuch, he put up a Congress candidate just to ensure my defeat. He was a dagakhor (cheater). It will not be easy to trust them again.

In 2017, you were in alliance with the Congress and secured two Assembly seats in Gujarat. It hasn’t been a great run for the BTP since parting ways with the Congress.

In 2017, they (Congress) gave us seven seats but ultimately cheated us by allowing their party leaders to contest against the BTP as independents. We have a plan… We are focussing on also ensuring that we have at least five MPs in the Lok Saba in 2024.

But in the end, he (Patel) cheated me. We were friends, I even voted for him in the 2017 Rajya Sabha polls and he won. But when I contested for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls from Bharuch, he put up a Congress candidate just to ensure my defeat. He was a dagakhor (cheater). It will not be easy to trust them again.

In 2017, you were in alliance with the Congress and secured two Assembly seats in Gujarat. It hasn’t been a great run for the BTP since parting ways with the Congress.

In 2017, they (Congress) gave us seven seats but ultimately cheated us by allowing their party leaders to contest against the BTP as independents. We have a plan… We are focussing on also ensuring that we have at least five MPs in the Lok Saba in 2024.

As an MLA for 35 years, I have been telling the BJP to implement the PESA law as per the Constitution. It is my duty as an elected representative to raise the issue and I feel I have fulfilled that duty so far by remaining firm about this point. But I have been left unheeded all these years, not just by BJP but by all the political parties that have been elected to power. If Parliament passed a law, as long back as 1996, for the entire country, why has no government ever implemented it? They (political parties in power) hide the power that the law has given to tribals. Our only issue is that we should have been given this right long back.

No political party has ever implemented the laws meant to empower tribals. It is so disappointing that now we feel, we must gather like-minded independent people, who want to join the crusade for rights. The politics of tribals has to be understood. That is why we needed to form a party. If the mainstream political parties had done the right things for tribals, we would not have even needed to form a party.

What are your aspirations for the BTP?

You see that a 26,000-km-long economic corridor is being constructed and a major part of it is going to pass through tribal areas across the country, especially Gujarat. So, the BJP is working hard to lure tribals right now because they are going to bring in 4,000-5,000 industries that have packed up from China and hand out land to them in tribal areas. Many will be here in Gujarat for mining and other rich resources that tribals own. The PESA law empowers the gram sabha to have a say in these decisions but it has never been done before.

The BTP will grow automatically as more and more tribals join us in protest when the economic corridor comes to the ground. The BTP is not a party, it is a tribal movement.

Currently, the BTP only has you and Mahesh Vasava steering it. There are other aspiring members of your family …

No, there is nothing like aspirations in the family. Yes, all our family members are connected with politics and I have told all my children, my sons and my daughters, to join to strengthen the party. It is not for contesting seats but for bringing together like-minded people. We know, it cannot be built in one day nor do we want to build it in a hurry. It is a movement. We are even asking like-minded OBC (Other Backward Class) leaders to form a party and join us. They also have about 27 reserved seats.

Do you feel confident going alone in the Assembly elections? How many seats are you looking to contest?

We will see what lies ahead … We have strong faces locally in the 27 reserved ST (Scheduled Tribe) seats. But the focus is not just on the Gujarat Assembly. The focus is on ensuring that we can have at least four or five MPs elected to the Lok Sabha in 2024 from across the tribal states.

The BTP tried an alliance with the AIMIM in the local body polls, then the AAP. Your opponents say BTP is being opportunistic, aligning with anyone.

When a consumer goes to the market, he does not just go to one place and buy. He tastes at multiple places and decides… It (politics) is like a bazaar, sweet and sour. Politics does not serve bitter recipes at all because you (parties in power) get to eat out of the entire country’s budget (laughs) … It can only be sweet, right?

The BJP has cited the Statue of Unity as one of its development projects in tribal areas for employment generation.

The Statue of Unity has been of no use. They spent Rs 3,000 crore on the statue. They should have spent that money on the development of tribal areas for education, health, and the housing of tribals. The land had to be developed. About 90 per cent of the people in tribal areas are malnourished. But they want to conceal this data … Shouldn’t this be made right?

Source:indianexpress.com

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