Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday said he felt the pain of farmers, youth and tribals after meeting them during his Bharat Jodo Yatra and accused the BJP of drawing up plans to displace adivasis by handing over forests to industrialists as he hit the campaign trail in Gujarat 10 days ahead of the first phase of Assembly polls. Addressing his first rally in Gujarat after the announcement of the Assembly poll schedule, Gandhi asserted tribals are the first owners of the country, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was working to take away their jungles and keep their children away from modern education.
The Congress MP took a break from his Bharat Jodo Yatra, currently passing through Maharashtra, and travelled to Gujarat, where he addressed a gathering of tribals at Mahuva in Surat district in support of his party, which is seeking to end its nearly three-decade stint in the opposition in the BJP-ruled state in the next month's Assembly polls. Gandhi said his 3,570-km yatra, which started from Tamil Nadu on September 7, was for the unity of the country and during the cross-country foot-march he felt the pain of farmers, youth and people from the tribal community after listening to their problems. Sharing his experience of the yatra so far, the Congress leader said he felt sad while talking to farmers, youth, and tribals. Farmers shared their experience of not getting proper rate of their produce, crop insurance money or their loans not getting waived, while youth talked about remaining unemployed and failing to realize their dreams. "They (BJP) call you 'vanvasi' (forest dwellers). They do not say you are the first owners of India, but that you live in the jungles. Do you see the difference? It means they do not want you to live in cities, see your children becoming engineers, doctors, learn to fly planes, speak English," he said at the rally at tribal-dominated Mahuva. Further attacking the ruling party, the Lok Sabha member from Kerala alleged it wants to keep tribals away from modern health and education facilities. "They want you to live in the jungles, but do not stop there. After that, they start taking away the jungles from you. If it continues like this, then in another 5 to 10 years, all the jungles will be in the hands of 2 to 3 industrialists, and you will have no place to live, get no education, health and job," Gandhi said. Recalling a children's book about a tribal kid that his grandmother, former prime minister Indira Gandhi, gave him when he was a child, the Congress leader said she introduced the book as the one about tribals, the real owners of India. Gandhi said she told him if you want to understand India, you must understand tribals, their lives, their relations with water, jungle and land (jal, jungle, jameen). "She used the word, "adivasi," for tribals, meaning those who have stayed here for the first time. I am telling you that you are the first owners of the country. The country has been taken away from you," he said. The word "Adivasi" means the country belongs to tribals and they should get their rights in this country--like employment and health to them and their children, Gandhi said. "'Vanvasi,' on the other hand, means all that belong to you should be given to 2 to 3 industrialists, and you get no education, heath and any other rights," the former Congress president said. Further targeting the BJP, he said laws introduced by the Congress when in power in the past at the Centre for the benefit of the tribal community were never implemented in states ruled by the saffron outfit.
In fact, they worked to weaken important legislations like the PESA Act (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, the Land Acquisition Act and Forest Rights Act, among others, he claimed. "These were revolutionary laws to return water, land and jungle to you...We gave you MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act ), jobs, scholarships, rights on land. They (BJP) did not do so...in fact they only took away your land from you," the Congress MP said. He said at a time when people talk about the environment and big conferences are held where delegates from all over the world meet to discuss green issues, tribals know about the subject more than any of these leaders. "You can teach them about water, land and jungles, and the work of a leader or a government is to listen to you," he said, wooing tribals, a key bloc of voters for the opposition party. Gandhi said lakhs of people, including farmers, unemployed youths, women, tribals, Dalits, backward community members and minorities walked with him during the Bharat Jodo Yatra. "If someone is left behind, everyone comes forward to help him. It is a yatra of love and everyone is included. Nobody asks what is your caste, religion, which language you speak, your age, whether you are old, young, woman or man -- nobody asks these questions," he said. He said the yatra was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, who was born in Gujarat. Gandhi said he felt emotions of happiness as well as sadness during the unity march. "Sadness is experienced while talking to farmers, youths, tribals. Farmers do not get proper rate (of agri products), insurance money,...their loan is not waived. Youths are unemployed, their dream is breaking. Someone wants to become an engineer, his parents spend money on his education, but he is working as a labourer (after getting degree)," he said. The Congress MP maintained how a youth named Ram joined the yatra on Sunday evening and hugged him and started crying. "He said he lost his entire family due to the coronavirus and he was left alone. He said he was unemployed and didn't see a way out," Gandhi said. "He is not alone, there are lakhs of such youths in the country. When you talk to tribals, they say their land is being snatched away. They are being displaced without being told anything and some industrialists are given our land without any compensation," the Congress leader said. Voting to elect a new 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases -- December 1 and 5 -- and ballots will be counted on December 8.
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