Congress has fielded Alawa from Manawar, a tribal seat in Dhar district
The one name that stood out when the Congress released its first list of candidates Saturday was of a man who belonged to no party. A spelling error compounded the confusion on whether the party had indeed fielded Dr Hiralal Alawa, an AIIMS doctor who left the government job to join politics.
Alawa, convener of Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS), had announced that the tribal youth outfit was interested in an alliance with Congress only if the national party agreed to part with Kukshi and a few more seats.
Till a month ago, the 35-year-old had maintained that JAYS would contest about 80 seats, including 47 constituencies reserved for scheduled tribes. The BJP had won 33 of these seats in 2013 and the Congress 14. Rallies by JAYS between July 29 and September 3 had received good response forcing, both the mainstream parties in the state to sit up and take notice.
So when Congress announced the young doctor’s name, most reacted with disbelief wondering if it had been done without his consent or whether it was a namesake. To make matters worse, Alawa went incommunicado for more than a day, during which other JAYS members accused him of exploiting a tribal movement to serve his personal ambition and one group even claimed to have expelled him.
On Monday, Alawa told The Indian Express, “JAYS is an ideological organisation, there is no registration, no bye-laws. It’s more like a social organisation, so no member can sack another.” He said those who support the cause will back him.
Admitting that he was under stress due to the protests against him, he said, “One has to be practical. What if we contest 100 seats and not win even one? Had we contested without a symbol or infrastructure, we would have definitely lost. On a Congress symbol, there’s 90 per cent possibility of me winning.”
Congress has fielded him from Manawar, a tribal seat in Dhar district, but not Kukshi, where it has retained sitting MLA Surendra Singh Baghel. “Kukshi was my priority but it would have been unfair to disturb a winning candidate,” said Alawa.
A section of Congress workers have described him as an outsider and burned his effigies.
Asked to react to the betrayal charge, Alawa said protests under the movement in the last five years did not result in anything concrete because no party spared time to listen to JAYS leaders. “One can pursue a cause only by entering politics. Those accusing me of betrayal have no vision.” He blamed the protests against him on “pro-BJP elements who are scared that the BJP will suffer the most” by his decision to join hands with the Opposition party.
Admitting that he had blamed Congress for not doing enough for tribals despite being in power for decades, he said the party has agreed to address issues like strict implementation of Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act and Forest Rights Act, illiteracy and filling up backlog in government jobs for STs.
BJP MP from Dhar Savitri Thakur dismissed the threat posed by Alawa. “When his own organisation has disowned him, who would vote for him,” she said. The Congress, on the other hand, believes it was an astute move to get Alawa to their side. “He led tribal youths who were wandering for want of jobs and many more joined the movement. Most of them will now back Congress,” said Ajay Shah of Adivasi Congress, a tribal body of the Opposition party.