Rahul connects with Karnataka tribals, wins their hearts

March 25th, 2008 - 7:50 pm ICT by admin  

By Fakir Balaji
B.R. Hills (Karnataka), March 25 (IANS) Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Tuesday effectively unleashed the party’s election campaign in Karnataka by mingling with Soliga tribals here, eating rotis with them and assuring them that their demands would be heard at the highest level. “I give you my word. Your demands and grievances will be heard at the highest level,” the Amethi MP told the tribals, who live in the richly bio-diverse forests of Chamarajnagar district, about 240 km from state capital Bangalore.

Gandhi’s visit to the tribal area, on the first day of his five-day tour of poll-bound Karnataka, turned out to be a big hit as hundreds of people, young and old, lined up along his route and cheered him.

Reaching this hilly region on the southern fringes of the Western Ghats by helicopter from Bangalore, the Congress general secretary lost no time in mingling with the tribals. He went inside the hut of a Soliga family and shared their ragi roti (handmade millet bread) with forest honey.

Through an interpreter, he spoke with Made Gouda, the family head, in a way reminiscent of the ease with which his father Rajiv Gandhi and grandmother Indira Gandhi used to establish rapport with tribals.

In spite of the stringent security and overbearing presence of the Special Protection Group personnel, Rahul was able to mix freely with many tribals as they had been screened and given security clearance.

He got a firsthand account of the various welfare activities carried out by the Vivekananda Girijana Kalyana Kendra (Tribal Welfare Centre) run by noted doctor and social worker H. Sudarshan. He also met tribal students and patients at a hospital in the area.

Later addressing a large group of Soligas, Gandhi said the central and state governments would implement the Tribal Act to empower them.

“The UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government had done a lot on the tribal front. The Tribal Act is a central piece and a weapon to empower and make you progress. There is no question of not implementing it,” he said to the applause of the gathering. Gandhi spoke in English and the speech was translated into Kannada by the state Youth Congress chief Krishna Byre Gowda.

The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers Act (Recognition of Forest Rights Bill, 2006), enacted recently, seeks to empower forest dwelling communities by giving them security of tenure, access to minor forest produce and a stake in the preservation of natural space.

Lauding the knowledge of the Soliga tribals, who have a lineage of around 3,000 years, Gandhi hoped the other world (urban world) would pay attention and respect the tribals’ right to livelihood and their role in protecting the forests and preserving environment.

Union Minister and Karnataka Congress in-charge Prithviraj Chavan, state Congress chief Mallikharjun Kharge and several other state leaders were present.

The Soligas treated Rahul to rich folk dances and song sequences in traditional costumes and played native musical instruments.

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