On 7 February 2017, the chief minister of Gujarat, Vijay Rupani, flagged off the Adivasi Vikas Gaurav Yatra—a political march promising development and promoting Adivasi pride—from the village and pilgrimage site of Unai, in the southern district of Tapi. At the function, the party’s state unit president Jitu Vaghani declared that the yatra was intended to “win hearts and not votes.” But with Gujarat assembly elections scheduled for later this year, there was little doubt that the BJP was making a concerted play for the Adivasi vote.
Adivasis comprise more than 14 percent of the state’s population, and are decisive voters in the 27 assembly constituencies in eastern Gujarat. Since the late 1990s, Hindutva groups, particularly the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, have made systematic efforts to woo them, and have thus ensured that the region has largely been a BJP bastion.
Over 12 days, the yatra covered 50 talukas in the 15 districts of the Adivasi belt. The BJP’s leaders and cadres visited Adivasis in their homes, and shared meals with them. One of the party’s strategies was to apprise the community of the benefits of a rule under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996. The rule, whose implementation Rupani had cleared, granted them rights over minor forest produce and minerals as a source of income, and stood to benefit people across 4,503 gram sabhas.