With Gujarat scheduled to go for assembly polls later this year, Congress has started making serious efforts to regain the control of tribal areas of the state which it lost to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2002 assembly elections.
The tribal belt of Gujarat, which decides representations in around 43 assembly segments in Central and South Gujarat, had been a Congress stronghold from independence to the 2002 election. However, in the 2002 polls held after the Godhra carnage, Congress was routed from the tribal belt as ruling BJP swept the tribal stronghold in districts of Dahod, Panchmahals, Valsad and parts of Anand and Vadodara.
The target of Congress for the next assembly elections is to win back maximum number of seats in the tribal belt, head of Gujarat Congress Tribal Cell and veteran tribal leader Mohinsinh Rathwa said.
Congress had virtually launched its campaign in the tribal belt by organising a massive rally addressed by President Sonia Gandhi.
Prior to the rally the party had held a 'Jan Mitra Shibir' for enrolment and training of 5,000 tribal party workers who will help the party in the election campaign. The party has decided to bring to its fold prominent tribal leaders who deserted the party. Rathwa was elected seven times to the Gujarat assembly before losing in 2002.
Two prominent leaders, who have been approached so far by the party, include seven-times parliamentarian from Dahod Somajibhai Damor who was suspended by Congress before 2004 Lok Sabha elections.
Rathwa said Damor has a good hold over the tribal belt and his re-entry in the party will change things. "We have approached Damor and he has shown willingness to return to Congress," he added.
Another leader who has been approached by Congress is Valsad's three-time parliamentarian Uttam Patel, Rathwa said.
"We have planned to organise public meetings in the all the constituencies of the tribal belt to inform the people about schemes introduced by the central government for the benefit of tribals and failures of the state government," Rathwa added.
On the other hand, BJP is entirely dependent on Chief Minister Narendra Modi's popularity to retain the seats in the tribal belt, BJP sources said.
Modi has put forward a demand to the UPA government at the Centre to waive the interest on loans taken by the state government for the construction of Sardar Sarovar project on the river Narmada.
Dedicating the 1,450 MW power generation capacity of the Narmada dam to the nation last week Modi had said if the Centre waives the interest on loans taken to complete this project then each paise waived will be spent for the benefit of tribals. However, the Centre has not responded to his demand.
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