NATIONAL POLITCS: Sonia salutes sipahi & strategy

NATIONAL POLITCS: Sonia salutes sipahi & strategy – grooming the Crown Prince towards the betterment of India, but still to understand the inner consensus of separation from Bengal, smaller constituencies easier to govern ?!!

Rahul Gandhi on his way to public meetings in North Bengal on Wednesday (Darpan) - understanding the inner consensus ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY SANJAY K. JHA

New Delhi, Sept. 15: Sonia Gandhi has publicly hailed Rahul Gandhi’s political role for the first time in his nascent career, picking out a tribal foray where he labelled himself a “sipahi” and flagging a thrust area through which the Congress hopes to stand on its own feet eventually.

“The party’s commitment to the welfare of the underprivileged and weaker sections was reinforced after the decision to protect the Niyamgiri region from mining by party general secretary Rahul Gandhi who assured the tribal people that their fundamental interests would not be sacrificed in pursuit of developing natural resources,” Sonia said in a letter to Congresspersons.

The letter has been published in the latest issue of the party mouthpiece, Congress Sandesh, and has caught the eye of party supporters at a time Rahul is touring Bengal.

Sonia was referring to the August 26 meeting in Orissa’s Niyamgiri region where Rahul Gandhi obliquely endorsed the Union environment ministry’s decision to slam the brakes on a mining project by Vedanta.

The project was part of several the Union environment ministry, headed by Jairam Ramesh, had objected to, triggering a debate among various ministries on how to reconcile the demands of development with the interests of populace dependent on land.

The Congress president had last week articulated her stand by advocating a balanced approach but she had so far not commented on Rahul’s initiative.

Rahul has now earned the distinction of being the first party general secretary to be praised so by the Congress president.

Sonia’s decision to mention the Niyamgiri episode in her letter underscores the significance the party attaches to the shift in its development outlook against the backdrop of the rising Maoist threat.

“We need to ensure that sustainable development and employment reaches people whose voice is now being heard,” Sonia added in the letter.

In Orissa, Rahul had described himself as “your (tribals’) voice and sipahi in Delhi”, and Sonia’s letter pointed out that their voice was “now” being heard. This is being seen as a clear admission by the two most powerful players of the ruling combine that successive governments ignored the interests of the tribals.

The Congress has understood that the “aam aadmi” slogan may not be able to propel it any further and Rahul will have to break fresh ground to win the next election. He began speaking up for the poor, then tried to identify himself with the Dalits and is now vigorously wooing the tribals.

The party, too, has taken up the initiative as a major project — as reflected in the editorial of Sandesh.

The editorial says: “Rahul has given a new hope to the nation from the Niyamgiri hills in Orissa. He has started writing a new chapter in the social history of our diverse country and has assured the tribal population that he would work as their sepoy in Delhi.”

It adds: “Rahul’s commitment to the call of those who stay in forests and struggle hard to save their hills and land is in continuation of the basic traditions and values of the Congress…. It has become necessary to redesign our developmental schemes in the tribal areas.

“Policing alone is not an answer to every problem. Policing in our country has become increasingly complex over the years. Social tensions, religious disputes, growing economic disparities, regional, linguistic and ethnic differences have long been major challenges. Time has come when we must have a total review of our strategies.”

Apart from the Naxalite menace, the shift of tribal votes to the BJP has become a source of concern for the Congress over the past decade. While the predominantly tribal states of Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have fallen into the BJP’s lap, the Congress has lost control over tribal pockets in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, too.

The RSS has developed a network among the tribals but the Congress had almost withdrawn from these areas. Without reclaiming them, the Congress cannot hope to bolster its tally to be able to reach 272 seats on its own.

Rahul rural job jab at state – Stall scheme finger at Bengal – before Wally Olins, the spin-doctor wiz steps in ?!!

Rahul Gandhi garlands a statue of Thakur Panchanan Burma, a 19th century reformer who fought for the rights of the Rajbangshis and also worked to spread education among them, in Cooch Behar on Wednesday. (Main Uddin Chisti) - understanding Bengal's cultural hegemony ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH
BY AVIJIT SINHA

Jalpaiguri, Sept. 15: Rahul Gandhi today accused the state government of hindering the implementation of the NREGS in the tea belt to prevent poor garden workers from joining the “better-paid” central job scheme, tribal youths who attended a convention here said.

Rahul, who arrived here this afternoon on a whirlwind tour of north Bengal, told the 5,000-odd Scheduled Tribe youths that as the existing tea wage was less than what was disbursed under the NREGS, the state was not implementing the scheme properly. For the same reason, the state always levelled baseless allegations of non-allocation of funds by the UPA government, said Rahul.

“We told him that on an average, 10 to 12 days of work is provided in a year to unemployed people from the tea gardens, instead of the 100 days. Most of the times, the officials tell us that there is a funds crisis,” said Pushpa Kuzur, a resident of Pahargoomia Tea Estate of Naxalbari in Darjeeling district.

While garden workers, both permanent and casual, get Rs 67 a day, a beneficiary under the NREGS earns Rs 100. “The amount can go up to even Rs 200 or Rs 300 if more work than the usual work is done,” an official said.

Kuzur, along with Joseph Munda of Metelli in Malbazar, asked Rahul about the alleged paucity of funds hitting the NREGS. “He clarified that the state is not implementing the scheme to its fullest extent in the tea estates as wages paid under the scheme is higher than what we get in the gardens. If the NREGS is implemented properly, he explained to us, gardens would find it difficult to get workers as more beneficiaries under the scheme would come forward,” said Munda

The 30-minute convention was held at the ABPC ground of the town from around 11.30am.

Tirath Toppo, who had come from Mathura Tea Estate in Alipurduar, said: “Rahulji told us that we need to raise our voices so that it reaches the appropriate quarters. This can be done only by joining politics and the Youth Congress.”

Today’s event had been organised considering that eight of the 12 Assembly constituencies of Jalpaiguri district and two of the six constituencies of Darjeeling are tribal-dominated.

Congress leaders in north Bengal hope that Rahul’s decision to merge the “macro” enrolment drive across the country with “micro” issues of the region, like problems of tea garden workers, would help them make inroads at a time the recently formed Akhil Bharatiya Adivasi Vikas Parishad has carved out a place for itself and the Trinamul Congress is out to get a toehold.

“The Congress, which is still the principal opposition in north Bengal, is trying to plug the existing gap. Because of the lack of development, the tribals have developed a natural disliking for the CPM. The Congress wants to take over from there,” a political observer said. “The poll results in these 10 constituencies would depend entirely on votes cast by the tribal populace and none of them is a Trinamul stronghold. Rahul’s visit will give the Congress chance a boost.”

Arrest

Jagadish Das, a resident of Rangdhamali, was arrested when he tried to enter the ABPC ground while Rahul was meeting Youth Congress workers. Jagadish was impersonating as Sariful Mohammad, who had been issued a gatepass. The 36-year-old said he had come across the gatepass lying on the ground.

Cong scion drops in on hut on way to airstrip – After Kalawati, Shanti catches Rahul’s attention – the random selection with a human touch ?!!

Rahul Gandhi in Cooch Behar (MU Chisti) - walks deep in thought, how best to connect with the poorest of the poor to uplift them ?!!

FROM THE TELEGRAPH CORRESPONDENT

Balurghat, Sept. 15: Shanti Pahan was standing along with a group of women on the roadside, right next to her mud hovel on the outskirts of Balurghat, when Rahul Gandhi’s motorcade stopped and he got off car.

“He walked straight to me and wanted to come inside my home. I was taken aback and tried my best to remove a tarpaulin sheet at the entrance and move aside a bicycle in front. He came inside much to everyone’s surprise,” said Shanti.

Rahul was going to the Balurghat airstrip after a meeting in the town when he made a visit Shanti’s house.

In the five-minute chat, Rahul asked Shanti about her family members and wanted to know whether they had got work under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. She said Rahul had stood in the middle of their cluttered room holding on to the back of a red plastic chair.

“He was speaking in Hindi and it was difficult for me to follow his words. Some neighbours helped out; and I told him that I had got work for just six days last year. He took down the name of my husband and two sons and also the number of my job card that I showed him,” said the 45-year-old woman. “I will remember his visit all through my life.”

The Gandhi scion had surprised everyone when he spoke to Kalawati, a widow, during a visit to Maharashtra’s Vidarbha a few years ago. Later, her name was mentioned by Rahul in his speech to justify the Indo-US nuclear deal during a no-trust motion against the UPA 1 government in July 2008. He said energy security would improve the future of women like Kalawati, who was struggling to feed her family of nine after her husband had committed suicide in December 2005.

Shanti touched Rahul’s feet before he left.

“Our home has been honoured by his visit. I only wish that my husband and two sons were present. I touched his feet before he left. My only regret is that he did not stay longer. I would have loved to talk to him at length and brew a cup of tea for him,” said the woman.

Shanti’s two sons, Achinta, a first year student of Balurghat College, and Srimanta, who had stopped studying after passing Madhyamik in 2007, had gone to the air field to catch a glimpse of the Congress leader. Their father, Kartik Pahan, was away working as a casual labourer in the state farm in Balurghat.

Sonal Pahal, a Class V girl, managed to get an autograph from Rahul at Shanti’s house.

Achinta and Srimanta were very disappointed that they were not at home during Rahul’s visit. “We missed such an occasion. I would have told Rahulji that I am carrying on with my studies under tremendous pressure as our family is poor. I would have also asked him what he had planned to do for unemployed youths,” said Achinta.

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