After resigning from the Gujarat Assembly and joining the BJP on Tuesday, prominent tribal leader Ashwin Kotwal hit out at his former party Congress, saying, “For a long time, I was very aggrieved by the working style of the party I was associated with.”
The 58-year-old tribal leader, who represented the constituency of Khedbrahma in north Gujarat’s Sabarkantha district for the last three terms, claimed that in 2007 Narendra Modi, then the chief minister of the state, had invited him to join the BJP.
“He (Modi) told me that he was inviting me to join the BJP because he needed good, clean people in his team. I have been his ‘bhakt’ since then. I have been getting elected from the Congress for three terms, but Narendra Modi saheb is in my heart. No other country on earth will get such a ‘Vikas Purush’,” Kotwal said, adding that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in the region were misguiding Adivasis and exploiting them. However, he neither named any specific NGO or official nor spelled out any specific grievance against his former party.
Congress insiders claimed that Kotwal was unhappy with the party after senior tribal MLA Sukhram Rathva was appointed the Leader of Opposition (LoP) last December. Kotwal was the Opposition party’s chief whip and expected to make leader the party in the House. But not only did he not get the job, CJ Chavda replaced him as the chief whip in February.
“He (Kotwal) wanted to be LoP,” said a Congress MLA. “And since he was not appointed on the post, Kotwal was angry with the party. And this reflected in his performance in the Assembly during the Budget session in March. He remained almost quiet in the Assembly.”
The legislator added, “But I do not think that the exit of Kotwal will affect the party much. He was elected from a seat that is traditionally a Congress bastion. Kotwal did not have much of his own following despite being a three-time MLA. He does not have any significant agitation on any of the people’s issues to his credit. Today, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani are known in the tribal district of Dangs. But, people there do not know Kotwal. It shows he does not have much following among tribals.”
Another Congress leader claimed that the BJP wanted Kotwal since it is seeking to expand its presence among tribal communities. “The BJP does not have as good following among tribals as the Congress. That is why they are trying to woo the community. It inducted four tribal ministers in the Bhupendra Patel government as part of this strategy. And Kotwal’s inclusion is also part of this plan,” added the Opposition party functionary.
A senior BJP leader agreed that Kotwal’s inclusion would help the party in two ways — strengthen its position among Adivasis and give it a psychological edge over the Congress ahead of the Assembly elections scheduled for later this year. The former MLA has deep roots in his constituency. He has served as Opposition leader in the Sabarkantha district panchayat while father Laxmanbhai, wife Induben, and son Yash have been elected as presidents of Khedbrahma taluka panchayat.
Asked if the ruling party had promised him an election ticket, Kotwal told reporters, “I have joined BJP to serve tribal people without any greed or temptation. I have come to get justice for tribal people.”
Not attaching any importance to the denial, a Congress leader asked, “Will any sitting MLA quit his post without a commitment?”
With Kotwal’s resignation, the Congress’s strength in the Assembly has come down to 63. Of the 182 seats in the House, 27 are reserved for Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities. The Congress holds 11 of those at present.