Bhopal/ Jabalpur (Madhya Pradesh): The BJP and Congress on Monday tried to get the tribal vote in Madhya Pradesh firmly on their respective sides with an eye on the 2023 Assembly polls by celebrating the birth anniversary of legendary icon Birsa Munda and promising the betterment of indigenous communities.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the Janjatiya Gaurav Diwas mega outreach event in Bhopal, with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and others in attendance, the Congress organised a much smaller meet in Jabalpur, where the latter's state unit chief Kamal Nath said his party would improve the plight of tribals if voted to power.
During his speech, the PM said the anniversary of Birsa Munda would be celebrated with pomp and fervour every year like Gandhi Jayanti and Ambedkar Jayanti.
The PM, who named the redeveloped Habibganj railway station after Gond queen Rani Kamalapati, slammed the Congress for neglecting tribals during its long tenure in power.
The event is being seen by political observers as the BJP's attempt to woo the tribals of the country back to its fold after poll reverses in MP, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, all three states where the segment's vote is decisive.
In Jabalpur, where the Gond queen attained martyrdom fighting the Mughals, Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath addressed a tribal meet and slammed Chouhan for remembering the indigenous people "too late".
"Chouhan spoke of celebrating Birsa Munda Jayanti today. The event had contractors arranging chairs and installing tents, and administrative contractors (referring to government officials) arranging the crowd," Nath taunted.
Asking people to remember the sacrifice of Birsa Munda in the freedom struggle, Nath said the plight of tribals will improve if his party is voted to power.
According to the 2011 Census, tribals account for 1.53 crore, or 21.08 per cent, of MP's 7.26 crore population, with 47 seats in the 230-member Assembly being reserved for Scheduled Tribes.
Besides, there are more than 50,000 tribal voters each in 35 other Assembly seats.
The BJP lost the 2018 Assembly polls after managing to win just 16 of the 47 ST seats, while 31 went to the Congress.
In the 2003 Assembly polls, the BJP unseated the Congress led by Digvijaya Singh after winning 37 of 41 ST seats, which increased to 47 post delimitation in 2008, and the saffron party once again held its ground to win 31 of them.
The BJP repeated the feat in the 2013 Assembly polls by winning 31 of 47 seats.
The 2003 win for the BJP came on the back of a massive 'Hindu conference' held in Jhabua in 2002 in which some two lakh tribals participated, and Monday's event might have been planned on the same lines to get the saffron party comfortably placed for the 2023 edition, political observers said.