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‘Soldier’ on save forest mission
- 23 years on, Mahapuru wields Gandhi wand

Ijurpa (Kalahandi), March 7: The sleepy village of Ijurpa, in the foothills of Niyamgiri, was awake and bustling today as hundreds of Dangaria Kandha tribals climbed down from their hilly homes to greet the “mahapuru” (demi-god) who would “save” their beloved forests.

The “tribals’ mahapuru” and AICC general secretary, Rahul Gandhi, today visited Ijurpa right after beginning his “Discovery India” trip from Sinapali — a place which his father Rajiv visited in 1985.

At the tribal village, about 600km from Bhubaneswar, he was greeted by Dangaria Kandha youths draped in their traditional embroidered garments. While some of the youths danced to the beat of drums around him, Rahul was also garlanded and some tribals washed his feet.

The youth leader was clearly overwhelmed by the welcome and he breached security protocol to reach out to the crowd beyond the bamboo barricades. Clad in his trademark white kurta-pyjama, Rahul shook hands with the people, before going into a makeshift bamboo and straw hut to interact with a local delegation.

Rahul heard the delegation out for 40-odd minutes. The conversation was mostly on the Vedanta Alumina issue and threats to the local eco-system and livelihoods. He also asked other senior Congress members, including Union minister Ajay Maken, to wait outside while he spoke with the delegation.

Later, while addressing the media, Rahul said: “I heard their problems in detail and will be discussing them with the AICC president.”

Jitu Jakasika, a Dangaria Kandha youth who was a part of the delegation, said: “We explained how Vedanta Alumina would affect the bio-diversity of Niyamgiri. The Vanshadhara and Nagabali rivers and 110-odd perennial streams flowing here will dry up. The survival of 25,000 primitive Dangaria Kandha would be at stake.”

“Rahulji said that he was with us in our struggle to save Niyamgiri,” added Jitu, a student in a local college.

Later, while addressing a “save the forests” rally at Bhawanipatna, Rahul referred to himself as a “soldier” in the “struggle” to save forests.

On his way back from Ijurpa, Rahul visited Lanjigarh Nodal UP School where he interacted with the authorities and asked about the implementation of the mid-day meal scheme. Earlier in the morning, Rahul flew in from Visakhapatnam to Sinapali and flagged off his tour.

He broke security breach at the airstrip in Langalbeda to interact with farmers and villagers about implementation of the NREGA and Rajiv Gandhi Gramin Vidyutkaran Yojana. “The villagers complained that the job scheme is not being implemented properly, while the electrification work is yet to start,” said Jaydev Jena, the Orissa state Congress president.

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