Lanjigarh, Orissa: Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is celebrating "victory" in Orissa's Kalahandi, saying the rejection of environment clearance to a big bauxite mining project in the Niyamgiri Hills is a victory of the local tribal people.
"Your voice reached Delhi and you saved your land. I did what I could, but this is your victory," Rahul said in Lanjigarh on Thursday. And he congratulated the tribal community for making its voice heard without resorting to violence. (Read: Jairam says no to Vedanta mining project in Orissa)
Wearing a beard and dressed in trademark white, Gandhi said amid loud cheers, "We promised you in 2004 that there'll be a government for the aam aadmi (common man) and we gave you that." (See Pics: Rahul in Orissa)
He recalled his words from a visit two years ago when he had said that, "For the tribals of Kalahandi, there is a soldier in Delhi named Rahul Gandhi." And added, "My work is not finished, it's begun. Whenever you need me, wherever, I am ready to stand with you.
On his last visit in 2008, Rahul said, some tribal youth had told him that they worshiped the Niyamgiri Hills and that their God was being snatched from them. That he said, was their "dharma." His dharma, Rahul said, was that "every voice, including that of the poor and adivasis should be heard.'
The rejection of the Vedanta project, he said, was not anti-development. "Development means that every citizen of India develops...Our government in Delhi, our PM, Sonia ji will fight for development and to give you a voice.
Rahul Gandhi held his rally in Lanjigarh, the very place where Vedanta's controversial alumina refinery is located.
His visit on Thursday is being seen as a Congress effort to make political inroads in a state which it once ruled, but where the BJD has been in power for many years now. In his short victory speech, he took the customary pot-shot at the Naveen Patnaik government in Orissa, saying it had trampled upon the interests of the tribals.
And the Biju Janata Dal is acutely aware of this. As Rahul reached out to the tribals, the ruling party described the Centre's rejection of the Vedanta project as against the interests of state and is holding protests at the site of Rahul's rally and in other parts of the state.