Ahmedabad: A tussle between members of two Rathwa political families in Gujarat’s Chhota Udepur has cost the Congress a tall tribal leader ahead of assembly polls in the state, scheduled to be December.
Chhota Udepur MLA Mohansinh Rathwa, a 10-time MLA, quit the Congress and joined the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with his two sons — Rajendrasinh and Ranjitsinh — Tuesday. Rathwa’s move to the BJP comes at a time when the party is trying to actively reach out to the state’s tribal population, which is about 15 per cent of the total population of the state according to the 2011 Census.
Seventy-eight-year-old Rathwa, a former cabinet minister who had earlier this year hung up his boots, deciding not to contest the next election, wanted the Chhota Udepur seat for his son, Rajendrasinh Rathwa, said sources in the Congress.
The elder Rathwa has been in the electoral arena since 1972 and has not lost a single election except for the 2002 assembly poll.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Rathwa said his departure from the Congress was not because the party denied his son a ticket, but because his son was drawn to the BJP.
“Congress never said no to me. It also didn’t say it will not give a ticket (to my son)…. The children are of the new generation. I have become old. My son Rajendrasinh Rathwa is an engineer. His sentiment was that we should join the BJP,” Rathwa told reporters.
“BJP will 100 percent give us a ticket,” he said, adding he hasn’t asked for candidature at any point.
However, while the septuagenarian did not spell it out, the Chhota Udepur seat, one of the Congress’ strongest bastions in Gujarat, has been rocked by infighting since the previous assembly election, with another Congress leader, Naransinh Rathwa’s son, Sangramsinh, eyeing the assembly constituency held for years by Mohansinh.
In a press conference earlier this year, Naransingh, while announcing his own retirement, had claimed the Chhota Udepur seat for his son.
Meanwhile, the Congress is trying to play down Mohansinh’s defection, claiming the tribal population in the district knew the party was dedicated to their wellbeing and one leader switching sides won’t change that.
The Rathwas of Chhota Udepur
Chhota Udepur was carved out as a separate district from parts of the Vadodara and Panchmahal districts in 2013. It is predominantly a tribal district, with the native tribals traditionally called the ‘Rathavas.’
The Chhota Udepur Lok Sabha constituency comprises parts of Vadodara and Panchmahal, and includes three assembly constituencies from the Chhota Udepur district — Chhota Udepur, Jetpur and Sankheda.
Three Rathwa families from the Congress have dominated the political landscape of Chhota Udepur for years. These are the the families of Mohansinh Rathwa (until his defection), Naran Rathwa and Sukhram Rathwa, who had their turfs within the constituency defined.
Sukhram Rathwa, the Congress’ leader of opposition in the assembly, currently represents Jetpur in Chhota Udepur. He had won the Chhota Udepur seat consistently from 1985 to 2002, before it fell to the BJP in the aftermath of the Godhra riots. Mohansinh Rathwa won the seat back for the Congress in 2012 and retained it in 2017.
Naran Rathwa has fought the Lok Sabha constituency and represented it five times — four straight terms from 1989 to 1998, and a fifth term in 2004, losing the seat to the BJP for the last two terms. He is currently a Rajya Sabha MP.
Since the last election, there has been much infighting between Naransinh and Mohansinh who have been looking to safeguard the political fortunes of their sons.
In 2017, Naransinh’s son, Sangramsinh Rathwa, briefly resigned from the Congress after the party decided to retain sitting MLA Mohansinh as its candidate for the Chhota Udepur assembly seat. Surprisingly, Naransinh had shown solidarity with Mohansinh at the time.
This time, both Mohansinh and Naransinh announced their retirement and demanded the Chhota Udepur seat for their sons.
‘The going of one individual won’t impact Congress’
The Chhota Udepur seat has been a safe seat of the Congress mainly because of Mohansinh Rathwa’s consistent victories since 2012, but the party believes that his defection will not change that.
Manish Doshi, Gujarat Congress spokesperson, told ThePrint, “Mohansinh Rathwa was a senior leader. The party gave him a ticket eleven times and he won ten times. Party made him the leader of the opposition, a minister, his son also got local political positions. The Congress gave him everything possible, but he left because of his son.”
He added: “The question is, the party has given you everything. What are you giving back to the party? I will leave it to the people to decide. It is a democracy.”
Doshi also said that the tribal population in Gujarat knows that the Congress is committed to their welfare and just one leader switching sides will not change that. “The people know our dedication towards them and the work we have done for them,” he said.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)