2019 polls in mind, parties playing tribal card

Bhubaneswar: After giving a Cabinet berth to eminent tribal leader Jual Oram, BJP-led NDA government’s recent appointment of Draupadi Murmu, a tribal leader from Mayurbhanj district, as the governor of Jharkhand indicates that tribal-dominated Odisha remains high on the saffron party’s agenda for 2019 polls.

Not to be left behind, the ruling BJD has also adopted a pro-tribal approach. In a tactical move, the State government recently announced that the proposed medical college in Baripada would be named after Pandit Raghunath Murmu.

Political analysts feel while BJP’s Murmu card will help it consolidate the tribal vote bank in Odisha given that the State got its first woman governor and that too from their fraternity, BJD’s announcement is certainly a good strategy to counter the saffron surge, considering its timing.

Besides, two days ago, the Naveen Patnaik-led BJD government announced Odisha PVTG Empowerment and Livelihood Improvement Programme (OPELIP), a Rs 795-crore project to be implemented in 12 districts benefitting 62,000 households of 13 PVTGs in the State. Tribals, who constitute 22 per cent of the State’s population, share around 20% of the total number of votes in the State.

Though there was no such allocation for the project in 2015-16 annual budget, the cash-strapped government chose to go one step ahead for the growth of tribals.

This is not all. The State government last month had raised the reservation ratio for students belonging to Schedule Tribe and Scheduled Caste in educational institutions to 38.75 per cent from 20 per cent.

The State Government too claims that it is providing over Rs 600 crore every year towards pre- and post-matric scholarships to almost 20 lakh ST students from its own resources.

Meanwhile, after the poll debacle, Congress has started pinning hopes on party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s scheduled Odisha visit in June. Though the ‘sipahi’ failed to live up to the tribals’ expectations and lost the 2014 battle, the party is hopeful of regaining lost ground by winning back its traditional tribal vote bank.