|(From top) Artistes (play tribal instruments to welcome Rahul Gandhi in Ranchi on Friday. Security cover at Birsa Munda Airport in the wake of the Congress vice-president’s visit. Pictures by Hardeep Singh
Ranchi; Feb. 7: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today gave Jharkhand a poor rating, clubbing it among states where Panchayati Raj institutions were not fully implemented, apparently unaware that Congress MLA C.S. Dubey alias Dadai Dubey was the state’s panchayat minister in the JMM-Congress-RJD ruling coalition.
Rahul spoke about the need to implement Panchayati Raj institutions in “letter and spirit” in a closed-door interaction with over 650 tribal women at a capital hotel shortly after his arrival this morning.
Notable in the crowd was tainted former Ranchi mayor Rama Khalkho, implicated in the cash-for vote scam in April 2013. Out on bail now, her presence caused a flutter among a section of Congress leaders who had wanted to project only clean faces.
“There are many states where Panchayati Raj institutions have been implemented in letter and spirit. There are states where they are yet to be implemented, which includes Jharkhand,” Rahul said.
Then came the miss. Adding that the Congress was part of the government in Jharkhand, he said: “We have to pressurise Jharkhand government so that elected panchayat representatives get their rights. While on my way here I told B.K. Hariprasadji (state party in-charge) in the car, we have to pressurise the state government.”
Evidently, his aides had not briefed him on portfolio specifics because Congress MLA Dubey’s name did not crop up.
Rahul, however, proved to be an empathetic listener to the problems of tribal women.
Answering a blunt query of a woman on the state government’s inefficiency to successfully implement MGNREGS and use of machines over manpower, Rahul was forthright about accepting incompetence.
“If you want to replace machines with manpower, panchayat representatives and women need to be empowered,” he said.
Many women wanted to know his vision and plan about Jharkhand. They also asked how funds of tribal sub plan were diverted to projects.
Stressing the Congress would fight for tribal rights, he reminded the gathering about the “old association” his party and family had with indigenous people.
Anganwadi worker Munni requested Gandhi to increase their monthly salary and give uniforms to children.
Mary Sheila Bodra, an XISS student in Ranchi, made a revelation that apparently left Gandhi stumped. She said corporate houses were reluctant to offer job opportunities to tribal youth.
Rahul also proved to be an earnest salesman of Right to Food Act pushed by the Congress-led UPA II to strike a chord with women in a state with high mortality rate.
“Earlier, people had no right to food. Now you have this. The act has come as a big help for tribal people in particular,” he said.
The reaction to the closed-door interaction was largely positive.
“It was nice to hear him. He is full of energy. I informed him about bureaucratic and political bottlenecks in Jharkhand that put development in reverse gear. He listened attentively,” said Vinita Kacchhap, a student preparing for competitive examinations.
Another participant, Sangita Gadi, disagreed. “He should have interacted with us at the open grounds, not here. He is only talking theory,” she said.
Dozens of NSUI workers protested before the hotel against state leaders because they were denied a chance of meeting Rahul. “Jhanda lagayen hum log. Ladke jutayen ham log aur jab Rahulji se milne ka samay aaya tab malai khayenge dusre. E nai cholbe (We put in flags, we got in crowds but when the time came to meet Rahulji, others went. This is not done),” said one.
Rahul left for Hazaribagh by chopper after the event.
Earlier in the day, Special Protection Group sanitised the airport before Rahul landed at Birsa Munda Airport around 10.35am in a special flight.
Immediately after Rahul arrived, he went to Birsa Chowk and offered floral tributes to Bhagwan Birsa Munda’s statue. Party workers and tribal performers welcomed him with garlands and traditional paika.
The Congress signature tune, “Jai ho, aam aadmi ka badta kadam, har kadam par Bharat buland,” a parody of the Slumdog Millionaire number, popular during 2009 Lok Sabha polls, played at full blast near the airport and various other places in the capital.
It is clear that after the birth of Aam Aadmi Party, the Grand Old Party desperately needs a new song.