Congress workers and leaders garland Rahul Gandhi at a public meeting in Salepur near Cuttack on Sunday. Picture by Sanjib Mukherjee
Bhatpada (Salepur), Feb. 9: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi today kicked-off his party’s election campaign in the state with a blistering attack on the Naveen Patnaik government accusing it of handing over Odisha’s precious mineral wealth to the mining mafia.
“This government takes your money and gives it to the mining mafia. They have looted iron ore and manganese worth Rs 60,000 crore. This wealth could have benefited you all, but only a few have gained, mainly the mining mafia,” he told a public meeting here, 7 km from Salepur, famous for its rasogollas.
The crowd cheered on the Gandhi scion, clad in jeans and kurta and sporting his trademark stubble, as he went all guns blazing against the state’s incumbent government holding it responsible for Odisha’s poverty and backwardness.
Describing the state as a classic case of poverty existing amidst plenty symbolised by abundant natural resources, the Congress leader said Odisha had remained poor because the money being generated from its minerals such as coal, bauxite and iron ore was not reaching the people.
“It disappears somewhere on the way. Even the funds meant for MNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and mid-day meals are being stolen. This government has not even spared the BPL rice, which we are providing for the poor,” he said.
Claiming that in the last five years the Congress-led UPA had given more money to Odisha than any other government in the past, the leader accused the Naveen Patnaik regime of failing to use this money.
“I am told that rupees five thousand crore is lying unspent. No wonder, Raghuram Rajan committee has placed Odisha at the bottom of the list of developed states in the country,” he said adding that there were allegations of 3,500 farmers having committed suicide in the state while 10 lakh youths were still jobless.
In no mood to pull his punches, Rahul, who drove to the meeting venue straight from the Biju Patnaik airport in Bhubaneswar, about 50 km away, his convoy making a brief stop at Jagatpur on the way, hit out at the Biju Janata Dal government for alleged atrocities against tribals and dalits.
“Not only is one-third of the state’s population living below poverty line, atrocities are still being committed against tribals and Dalits. There are no doctors in hospitals and schools don’t function,” he said while also making a pointed reference to the find deposit collection scam.
“Around 20 lakh families have lost money in this,” he said.
Reiterating his party’s commitment to right to food and information, the Congress vice-president also counted MNREGA and the land right bill among the achievements of the UPA government. He also recalled having waged a battle on behalf of Niyamgiri tribals to save their land from the threat of mining.
However, he said that a bigger battle awaited his party in Odisha where poverty was yet to be conquered and the tribals and the Dalits restored their rights. Calling upon the Congressmen to throw the BJD out of power, Rahul said they must fight for the poor and the weak who have suffered under the present regime for a long time.
“You should fan out to villages and ensure that the tribals and the Dalits get justice, that the money looted from them is restored back to them,” he said.
In Bhubaneswar, senior BJD leader and finance minister, Prasanna Acharya hit back at Rahul on the mining issue saying that the Justice M.B. Shah Commission which probed into the allegations of illegal mining had held the Centre equally responsible.
“He should look at the facts before pointing an accusing finger at us. And as far as his claim of having released extra funds to Odisha is concerned, this is no special favour they have done to the state,” the minister said.
State BJP chief, K.V. Singh Deo wondered as to why Rahul did not demand a CBI inquiry into the mining scam.