After 350-km journey, MP's first BAP MLA rides into assembly on two-wheeler

The only non-BJP and non-Congress legislator in the bipolar state, Kamleshwar Dodiyar says reading about Barack Obama's journey inspired him to join politics

Kamleshwar Dodiyar with father Omkarlal outside their home in Sailana (photo: National Herald)
Kamleshwar Dodiyar with father Omkarlal outside their home in Sailana (photo: National Herald)

Kashif Kakvi

Riding his brother-in-law's new two-wheeler with a neatly pasted sticker spelling 'MLA' on its headlight to highlight his latest achievement, tribal leader Kamleshwar Dodiyar (40) travelled 350 km to Bhopal on Wednesday. That's because the state's only non-BJP and non-Congress legislator — elected from the reserved segment of Sailana in Ratlam — could not afford to rent a car.

After an eight-hour journey with three companions, Dodiyar, representing the Bharatiya Adivasi Party (BAP), reached Bhopal at 9.00 pm to complete the required paperwork at the Vidhan Sabha (legislative assembly) to cement his historic electoral win. 

Having spent the night at a friend's place, Dodiya reached the assembly on Thursday morning with a bunch of papers neatly tucked under his arm, his eyes drinking in the lavish assembly building atop Arera Hills. Beaming with confidence, Dodiyar told his companions, "So 15 years of struggle and hardship have finally paid off."

Later, he would say that his first thought on seeing the assembly building was, "We became independent in 1947 but became slaves to political parties." Nonetheless, before entering the assembly, he prostrated himself at its entrance.

Dodiyar's victory by 4,618 votes in Sailana is immensely significant in the bipolar state, where the ruling BJP swept to victory in 163 of the 230 assembly segments. In second place behind him was Harshvijay Gehlot of the Congress, pushing the BJP's Sangeeta Vijay Charel to third position. Of the 90.10 per cent voter turnout — the highest in Madhya Pradesh this time — he bagged 37.36 per cent.

Prostrating in front of the assembly in Bhopal (photo: National Herald)
Prostrating in front of the assembly in Bhopal (photo: National Herald)

The BAP's campaign for 'Bhil statehood' and basic amenities to tribal hamlets fetched it one seat in Madhya Pradesh and three in neighbouring Rajasthan. In the last four elections, Congress won Sailana thrice and BJP once, but Dodiyar has now added BAP to the list.

“We fielded 27 candidates in Rajasthan and nine in Madhya Pradesh. We succeeded in winning three seats in Rajasthan and one in MP. We also disturbed poll dynamics in at least five seats where we came in second,” said BAP national president Mohan Lal Roat, emphasising that the BAP's priority is to address the issue of atrocities against tribals and increase tribal representation in politics.

The youngest of nine siblings, Dodiyar lives in a straw-roofed mud house with his parents in Radhagua village of Sailana panchayat. His 62-year-old mother Seta Bai still works as a daily wage labourer to not only support the family, but also look after her disabled husband Omkarlal (70), who was left unable to work after a debilitating fracture in his hand. Dodiyar's five brothers make a living working as labourers in Rajasthan, while his three married sisters also work as labourers.

His journey from the tiny village to the Vidhan Sabha is inspiring in manhy other ways too. Having worked as a daily wager, and then a tiffin delivery boy when he moved to Delhi for an LLB from Delhi University, he has 16 FIRs to his name, has been to jail 11 times — once for as long as 84 days — and also faced an externment notice for holding protests and blocking roads in support of the demands of tribals.

Astride his two-wheeler at the assembly (photo: National Herald)
Astride his two-wheeler at the assembly (photo: National Herald)

He was also booked under the stringent National Security Act 1980 for protesting outside the collector's office in February 2021, but not even that could deter him.

Dodiyar entered politics in 2008, inspired by the political journey of Barack Obama, a descendant of black migrants from Kenya, who became the 44th president of the United States. "Reading the political journey of Obama was the watershed moment of my life. It sprouted a seed to become a politician like Obama. It's when I decided to go for higher studies and joined politics," he said.

Associated with tribal outfit JAYS, he contested the 2018 assembly election from Sailana as an independent candidate and secured 18,800 votes. The following year, he joined BAP to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from the Ratlam parliamentary constituency and secured 15,000-plus votes. "The results boosted my confidence as I was getting votes without offering money or liquor to anyone," he laughs.  

Promoting BAP’s demand for a ‘Bhil Pradesh’, encompassing tribals from Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, and Rajasthan, Dodiyar moved from village to village, not only seeking votes but also funds to contest elections. "As he addressed rallies, we collected pennies from the crowd," said his advocate friend Dinesh Garval, one of the three who accompanied him to Bhopal on the two-wheeler. "We only managed to raise Rs 20,000 even after a dozen rallies. But it was time consuming, exhausting, and the funds we were receiving weren't enough to meet poll expenses."

Meeting assembly principal secretary AP Singh (photo: National Herald)
Meeting assembly principal secretary AP Singh (photo: National Herald)

They did not back down, however. Dodiyar turned to notra, a tribal tradition of raising interest-free loans to support the needy. After a dozen such events, he had managed to collect Rs 12 lakh.

Apart from BAP, Dodiyar also turned to the leaders of JAYS to drum up support. Among the leaders who supported him is Anand Rai, a whistleblower in the 2013 Vyapam scam. "Victory in the assembly election seemed a reality when BAP won all four zila panchayat seats in Sailana in July 2022," said Rai, who campaigned for Dodiyar at several rallies. 

BAP’s Bhil Pradesh concept encompasses the districts of Dungarpur, Banswara, and Pratapgarh in southern Rajasthan, Ratlam, Jhabua, Alirajpur, Dhar and Petlawad in Madhya Pradesh, the eastern districts of Gujarat like Panchmahal Godhra, Dahod and Dang, and Nashik and Dhule districts in Maharashtra.

"Even after 75 years of independence, tribal hamlets lack basic amenities," he pointed out. "Water scarcity and poor road connectivity still haunts tribal populations." As for schools and hospitals, he said they are "as good as stables".

"There is no one to keep tabs on the rampant corruption in schemes floated for tribals. The funds state received under article 275A for tribal welfare were lost to corruption," he lamented. "Since we now have representation in MP and Rajasthan, we will focus on implementing the fifth schedule of the Constitution, which deals with the administration and control of scheduled and tribal areas."

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