“One group will come and tell you to vote for (Narendra) Modi, another will tell you to vote for Rahul (Gandhi) but it is up to you to think whether your problems on the ground affect Modi or Rahul. Will your distress affect the roti that they eat every day? I am sure 99 of 100 children sitting here do not have chappals (slippers) on their feet. Look at the area around you, there is no electricity. But just a few days before elections, these people will come here and distribute a bottle of liquor or give you some money and lure you to vote for them,” addressed 36-year-old Raj Vasava. the Chhota Udepur candidate from Chhotu Vasava’s Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP), Gujrat, to the tribal crowd of men and teenage boys.
That is one common ugly truth which is often talked about at dinner tables and then forgotten. Raj Vasava who is an alumnus of United College in London, where he did his Diploma in Finance urges the tribal people to vote for a candidate they think would address their issues and not just particularly him – the water crisis in the villages, rights over the forest lands being snatched away, the unchecked sale of spurious liquor in tribal areas.
Vasava added, “Do you know that like some of you who lost your lands in the name of development, the government now has a good excuse to evict you from your homes because of a Supreme Court order? You cannot fetch wood, flowers or forest produce like before. Now, a forest officer can arrest you, shoot you and throw you out and no one will question him.”
“You all here may be thinking that the displacement of many of our tribal brothers has been done only in areas around the dam (on the Narmada) and statue (Statue of Unity) but soon you could be next.”
Speaking of his families struggle and financial history, Vasava says, his father, while working at a fabrication firm, borrowed money from his friends to fund his son’s studies in London. Vasava who is a native of Bharuch district says, “That money helped me get through the first year in London. Thereafter, I worked at a local store as an assistant manager and paid my fees.”
In Vasava’s affidavit, he has declared an income of about INR 4.5 lakh and bank deposits of INR 1.8 lakh and in the past year. His wife who is a resident doctor in Latur, Maharashtra belongs to a local tribal community there. Vasava says, “She is studying to become an ENT specialist and has been my backbone through it all since our wedding.” Vasava distributed his manifesto through leaflets bearing 19 such points in Gujarati while addressing the people.
Now, with the support of his wellwishers and friends, Vasava has launched a crowdfunding campaign on his Facebook account, sharing, “I am probably the first candidate in Gujarat to start a crowdfunding for my election campaign. Kanhaiya Kumar has done it in Bihar. The idea is to cover the costs of travel as Chhota Udepur is a vast constituency with far-flung villages even in jungle areas. I don’t have the funds but I want to make sure that I don’t leave out any village.”
He referred the tribal peoples as “Desh ka Malik” in his manifesto” urging them to unite instead of dividing the place into territories of Bhil, Tadvi, Rathwa, Baria and Vasava sub-castes. His manifesto promises to stop the displacement of tribal people that is allegedly being done in to set up tourism projects associated with the Statue of Unity. He said it is a conspiracy to grab tribal lands for a proposed tiger safari and setting up a railway line connecting Dabhoi, Chandod, Vadodara and Kevadia. He also put a light on how big an issue water scarcity in Chhota Udepur district is, even when the Narmada basin with a major canal passes along. “Their borewells have gone dry. Even the Hanfeshwar water pipeline project is only going to benefit Dahod. But what about Chhota Udepur? The lack of local leadership has meant that their voice has not reached Parliament,” says Vasava.
Vasava adds, “To me, it doesn’t matter if you vote for me or not because I am always going to be in your midst. But it does matter whether you vote for the right candidate.”
Vasava is standing up against Ranjitsinh Rathwa of the Congress and Geeta Rathwa of the BJP.
There is no doubt that crowdfunding for politics is a great tool but it is your wisdom to judge who is using it to help you and who is using it to manipulate the truth.
Note: This story was first published in The Indian Express.
Main Image: © Raj Vasava/Facebook