Monday, July 23, 2007

Chhattisgarh BJP in political hara-kiri mode?

Posted July 22nd, 2007 by Tarique

By Sujeet Kumar, IANS

Raipur : The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ever since it came to power in tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh in December 2003, has surprised its own members apart from people by sending some of its top tribal leaders into political exile.

With the sacking of one of the senior most tribal leaders, Nankiram Kanwar, from the council of ministers July 2, the party has sidelined its five top tribal leaders in the state.

This has raised eyebrows as the tribals comprise an estimated 32 percent of the state's population of about 20.08 million and they are in majority in 85 of the total 146 blocks.

In the 90-member state assembly, 34 seats are reserved for scheduled tribe candidates. In the present assembly 26 of them are with the BJP and seven with the opposition Congress, with one seat lying vacant. The BJP has a total of 53 members.

Kanwar's exclusion surprised people as well as several BJP legislators as he had maintained a clean image ever since he started his political career in 1972.

Kanwar, a committed Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) activist, has so far fought eight assembly polls from the Rampur constituency in Korba district with four successes in 1977, 1990, 1998 and the last 2003 polls.

"This BJP is doing something unique in Chhattisgarh," a senior BJP leader told IANS Saturday, requesting his name be withheld.
"The party was voted to power because for the first time tribals, who traditionally supported the Congress, preferred the BJP thanks to hard work and grassroots level contacts by a bunch of BJP tribal leaders. But all of them are now finished off through well-planned moves. They have been forced to go into political exile," the leader said.
In the state's vast southern tribal stronghold of Bastar, the BJP has now completely sidelined one of its veterans, Baliram Kashyap. Though he represents Bastar in the Lok Sabha, he hardly attends any party meet or government function, as he is neglected by the party and the government, according to his supporters.
Another leader in political exile is Nand Kumar Sai, former state party chief, who enjoys widespread support in the northern region of Surguja. The government rarely bothers to invite him for official meetings and functions.

An upset Sai has aired his grievances several times at tribal forum meets within the party. "He has accepted his humiliation on the advice of his supporters. Otherwise, he will meet the same fate as Shivpratap Singh did," a party workers close to Sai said.

Shivpratap, a top tribal leader from the Surguja belt and BJP legislator, was sacked overnight as state BJP president in August 2006 after he publicly raised the issue of alleged corruption of the party's government led by Chief Minister Raman Singh.

The Surguja region tribals were shocked in June 2005 when one of their firebrand women leaders, Renuka Singh, an MLA from Premnagar, was dropped from the cabinet. She too paid the price for raising issues of alleged corruption against the state government.

"With less than 18 months to go before the assembly polls, the BJP's central leadership has to debate the elimination of popular tribal faces and correct the mistakes as early as possible. Otherwise, like the tribal leaders, the party too will be wiped out in the state," a senior RSS leader said.

When contacted, state BJP president Vishnudev Sai refused to comment on the matter.

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