Rahul Gandhi reaches Birsa Chowk in Ranchi (below right) to garland a statue of the tribal icon on Tuesday. At Mecon Community Hall (above), a group of children waits for him under a bus, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Congress leader. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi, Sept. 25: Rahul Gandhi did not have to face a single question on retail FDI during his visit to the state capital today, something that helped him bond with the Congress’s traditional but now estranged tribal support base, even as he assured state party leaders of a stronger say in selection of candidates for Assembly and parliamentary elections.
Visiting Jharkhand after almost two years, Rahul landed in the state capital round 1.30pm after which his entourage — via a highly sanitised route, courtesy the SPG — went to Birsa Chowk to garland the statue of Birsa Munda amid protests by Bhartiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BYJM) workers.
Thereafter, he remained closeted with the around 1,500 Tana Bhagats, drawn from various districts, for around 40 minutes at Mecon Community Hall. He then met district Congress leaders and wrapped up his day’s official engagements by batting for the rights of elected panchayats while meeting several village leaders at RK Anand Lawn Bowl Stadium for about an hour from 4.30pm.
Tana Bhagats, a sect of Oraon tribals who embraced Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of non-violence, reiterated their age-old demand for the return of ancestral land confiscated by the British during the freedom struggle.
Ganga Tana Bhagat, a former MLA, declared the Britishers had confiscated over 4,000 acre land belonging to about 875 families while the others blew on ranabheris, a signature trumpet-like instrument, and cheered loudly.
“More than 172 families got back their land measuring about 1,332 acre. But, land of the rest of the families continued to be in illegal occupation,” he said.
One group from Saraiya Tamras Tand in Chatra spoke of a different problem. “We have been displaced by a CCL project, but can’t get jobs or compensation as some names do not figure in land records,” said Shiv Charan Tana Bhagat.
Rahul, who said the state government should deal with the problem seriously, invited the Tana Bhagats to Delhi to understand the issue better. But, this seemed to dampen their spirits.
“Every leader calls us to shore up their vote bank. We will not ditch the Congress at the Centre, but it can’t be sure of our support in the state. Upar mein to ham long hamesha Congress ko vote diye hain,” he added.
Some 2km away, at Engineers’ Bhavan, the Congress’s youth icon tried his best to placate district leaders, assuring them of not ignoring their views while deciding on party tickets.
District Congress presidents, from whom Rahul sought suggestions on turning around the party’s fortunes, were happy when their general secretary said that no new faces would be imposed in them.
Admitting the scourge of factionalism, Rahul promised them that the Congress leadership would announce candidates eight months ahead of elections. “Rahulji also invited us to Delhi. He told us he will not take decisions based on reports of helicopter wale neta (state leaders who flew in and out of Delhi),” said Ramesh Jindal, Sindri town unit president.
“District unit presidents also said that the Congress should not forge an alliance with any party,” said Bindu Mandal, Godda district unit president. She said the party had suffered immensely as a result of tie-ups with the JMM first and then JVM.
Rahul, however, remained non-committal on the issue.
During his meeting with elected panchayat leaders, the Congress leader questioned the state’s wisdom in denying them their rights. “I want to strengthen panchayats. Decentralisation of power is the need of the hour. Only you can do it,” he said.
Rahul also spoke on the need for reforms though economic liberalisation and cited the example of Indira Gandhi’s move to abolish privy purse and nationalise banks. He also highlighted the telecom revolution and how today, no one had to run after MPs to get landline connections.