The 2018 assembly poll in Madhya Pradesh, voting for which takes place on November 28, is generating considerable interest for a number of reasons. Quite apart from the outside chance of the ruling BJP being ejected from power by the Congress after 15 years, two energetic formations threaten to disturb if not disrupt the well-entrenched binary narrative of past decades, at least on paper: groups with sharply focused agendas compared to the usual dalit, kisan, development mix brought to the plate by mainstream parties.
The first is the upper caste dominated Samanya Picchda Evam Alpsangkhyak Varg (SAPAKS) whose single point demand is the rationalisation of job reservations in government. Rationalisation, mind you, not outright removal. Its stand against reservation in promotions, in particular, has found considerable traction among lakhs of government employees the state over. Though the newly registered party is putting up candidates in all 230 seats for maximum mileage, failure to procure a symbol from the Election Commission may limit its appeal.
More important is a tribal youth group called the Jai Adivasi Yuva Shakti (JAYS) which wants an ‘adivasi sarkar’ voted to the power given the pathetic living condition and exploitation of tribals even 70 years after Independence. Grinding poverty continues to be their lot. And there is not an ounce of exaggeration in the assertion. The electoral base of the group is largely confined to the Malwa-Nimarh region comprising the districts of Jhabua, Dhar, Badwani, Khargone, Khandwa, Dewas, and Ratlam. Of the 47 seats reserved for scheduled tribes in MP, 22 are located in this terrain. Fifteen of the 22 are currently held by the BJP, and six by the Congress. 
JAYS plans to contest 80 seats in alliance with the Gondwana Gantantra Party (GGP) which has pockets of influence in the Mandla-Jabalpur tribal belt. An understanding with the Congress is also being sought with certain riders. But a key snag could upset calculations: lack of party status will compel its candidates to contest as Independents. With each fighting on different symbols, vote cutting electoral gadflies are all they may end up being, and the issues raised left to fester, their credibility notwithstanding.
JAYS, says its founder-convenor Dr Hiralal Alawa, has been working among the tribals of Dhar, his home district, for the last few years. Two years ago he quit his job as assistant professor at the All India Institute of Medical Science, Delhi. What began as a Facebook page in 2012 with a few thousand college educated fellow tribal followers graduated into a goodly grassroots movement. Its rallies in the state’s tribal areas have elicited a good response. It tasted first political blood last year when around 160 candidates backed by it were elected in college union elections spread over Jhabua, Dhar, Barwani, Alirajpur etc. This whetted the group’s political appetite. 
JAYS’ last kisan mahapanchayat on October 2 at  Kukshi (Dhar) was thronged by well over a lakh. Which is why Alawa is desperate that the Congress concede the Kukshi assembly seat to the group. He has, in fact, almost served an ultimatum to the MPCC. Kukshi is where Alawa lives and practices as a doctor. The seat could serve as the perfect launch pad for his political ambitions. Should the Congress acquiesce he says he will gladly scale down JAYS demand to a bare 10-15 seats. The Congress, on its part, will be hard put to taking a decision: it has won the Kukshi seat, almost uninterruptedly, since 1972. 
Alliance with the Congress, even if things click, will not mean playing second fiddle, Alawa is quick to stress. In fact, the central purpose of the group is to carve out a distinct identity for the adivasis rather than remain the B-team of a national party. Which, in reality, is the perception about its ally the GGP. Should a couple of seats come his way he will work to ensure that the provisions of the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act better known as PESA are complied with in letter and spirit. The laws are all there but they are honoured more in the breach than in their observance. More tribal land has been lost to government projects in the last 15 years than during the earlier decades. Joblessness and malnutrition have hastened migration, threatening their very survival, says Alawa,
Rivals of the new tribal outfit, both in the Congress and BJP, counter that the seeds of destruction have already been sowed. And the man who may bring it about is none other than Alawa’s principal strategist, Vyapam whistleblower Anand Rai, a medical practitioner from Indore. Rai is an OBC with an RSS past. Critics allege he has cottoned on to Alawa to further his personal political interests after his break with the BJP. He wants to transform JAYS into a tribal-OBC partnership to widen its political appeal. And should this happen will not JAYS’ slogan “Ab ki baar adivasi sarkar” go up in smoke? Rai himself told My Nation that he is a “celebrity” and would use his status to evict the “corrupt” Shivraj Singh Chouhan regime by throwing his weight behind the new tribal formation.
Field workers in adivasi interiors dismiss JAYS members as a bunch of college-educated youths with no jobs. “Pant-shirt wale adivasi”! Since they are overqualified to work in forests, chunavi medhak (poll time frogs) is what they have become. Many deserted the outfit after Alawa decided to enter the electoral arena when the initial pledge was to stay away from polls. The overwhelming number remain loyal to the Vanvasi Kalyan Parishad, the tribal wing of the RSS, who work round the year. On paper, JAYS is more likely to cut into the Congress vote bank. 
Whatever the outcome, a sizeable churn in tribal voting patterns is on the cards, if not in this poll, then almost certainly in the 2019 LS poll.