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In Phase II, Cong hopes big from 'Other Gujarat'

Saubhadra Chatterji  |  Dahod 

In the previous Assembly election, Chief Minister Narendra Modi had hit the jackpot in the tribal-dominated Dahod district, where all six seats went to the BJP. This time, in this land of broken promises and under-development, he may fail to appease the tribals.
The smooth highway from Baroda to Dahod represents promise. On the way, there are huge factories on either side of the road and farmers are busy in the fields, green with crops. But this is Panchmahal district. As soon as one crosses the border and enters Dahod, it's a different story.
The factories vanish and the sole economic activity appears to be illegal tree-felling. "There is not much work. There is no industry and farmers depend on rainfall," says Chandu Damor, a native of Dhadkela village.
Even though the BJP government made a lot of promises, not much has happened. Most young people leave their villages in search of jobs in other parts of the state like Surat or Bhuj.
"The tribals tell us 'we are going to Gujarat,' although they move to just another area within the state," says Mehul Gandhi, a dealer of tribal handloom clothes.
For the tribals, "Gujarat" means a place of opportunity and not their impoverished land.
Dahod town, the district headquarters, is a trading centre dependent on farm products and provides work to a section of tribals.
But there is no guarantee that a tribal couple will earn even Rs 150 in a day, so most of them prefer to go to Surat or Bhuj, were a daily income of Rs 450 is more or less assured. A local police officer said, "Rural Dahod is prone to looting and dacoity. In most cases, the motive of these crimes is sheer desperation."
Ranjit Kamjibhai Baria, a secretary of the district Congress, says: "The government has not provided land to build houses and has imposed fees in the local hospital that the tribals depend on."
Ranjanbhai Trivedi is a government contractor. "Unless industries come to this area, the tribals will remain a neglected lot."
Apart from the services sector, the tribals don't find a place anywhere. Even in their own villages, it is mostly the Dahodi Bora Muslims who run shops and other business establishments.
Water shortage is acute, but during the previous election, the riot wave had made the tribals vote for the BJP. This easternmost area, bordering Madhya Pradesh, has been a successful Hindutva laboratory for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).
Here, thousands of tribals were converted to Hinduism years ago. But during the last five years, the RSS and the VHP only doled out donations to build more temples.
Tribals comprise almost 15 per cent of the state's population. In the previous election, almost 24 seats that the Congress had never lost were won by the BJP.
But after that, in Parliament, municipality and then the panchayat elections, the Congress regained its ground.
The party hopes to continue the dream run on December16 too, when Dahod goes for polling in the second phase of the state elections.

First Published: Wed, December 12 2007. 00:00 IST