Rahul to tribals: Rich India vs Poor India... I am your soldier

By Debabrata Mohanty

Accused by the ruling BJD of stalling development in Orissa and engineering the Environment Ministry rejection of the Vedanta bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri hills, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi today turned to the “rich India-poor India” argument to hit back, saying true development can only take place by “respecting interests of the poor and tribals, and not by muffling their voices”.

“There are two Indias — Ameeron ki Hindustan (India of the rich) whose voices reach everywhere, and the Garibon ka Hindustan whose voices are seldom heard. In the 2004 election, we had said the Congress would raise the voice of the poor and backward in Delhi. We have done it,” Gandhi told a party-sponsored rally for tribal rights in the foothills of the Niyamgiri hills.

“This is your victory. You saved your own land. Two years ago you had come to me saying the Niyamgiri hill is your god. I told you I would be your sipahi (soldier) in Delhi. I am happy that I have helped you in whatever way I could. What is important is that your voice was heard without violence,” he said.

The Dongaria Kondhs, the tribals living in Niyamgiri hills, cheered him on. “I am happy that Rahul has helped us keep our homes intact,” said Kadreka Singari, a woman who had come for the rally from Raygada district.

Referring to the tribals’ refusal to leave Niyamgiri which they consider their god, Gandhi said: “In my religion, all are equal — whether it is rich or poor, Dalits or Adivasis. Wherever an individual’s voice is being stifled, that is against my religion.”

He did not, however, name the Vedanta group whose million-tonne-per-annum alumina refinery here is now in jeopardy after the Environment Ministry’s refusal to clear the bauxite mining project.

“Some people say this (stopping of the mining project) is against development. But this is not against development as tribal voices were being suppressed. Development means that the voice of the poor is heard. It does not mean that the rights of tribals are taken away for the development of a few people,” Gandhi said.

Citing examples of Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi, he said development in Congress-ruled states was taking place rapidly by “hearing the voice” of the poor and weaker sections. “In Delhi, Manmohan and Sonia are working for real development.”

Kalahandi MP Bhakta Charan Das, who organised the Adivasi Adhikar Diwas rally, said: “With this rally, Rahul has endeared himself to the tribals. This should be a warning for Naveen Patnaik who is more a friend of corporates than poor tribals.”