The visit of All-India Congress Committee general secretary Rahul Gandhi to this bauxite-rich region of Orissa on Thursday gave a boost to the tribals who oppose displacement by mineral-based industries in different parts of the State.
Mr. Gandhi was here to address a rally organised by the State unit of the Youth Congress to celebrate the day as Tribal Rights Day in the wake of the Centre's orders against Vedanta that was planning to mine the Niyamgiri hills.
As many senior Congress leaders addressed Dongria Kondh tribal men and women and extended the party's support to their struggle for saving their homes and sources of livelihood from being taken over, Mr. Gandhi stole the show by making a 10-minute speech.
Mr. Gandhi expressed concern that the voice of the poor was rarely being heard in the country, while the voice of the rich was heard at various levels. What development meant was that all people should march forward and the voice of all should be heard.
On his arrival at the venue on the foothills of the Niyamgiri hills, Mr. Gandhi was accorded a rousing welcome by the tribals. A small group of tribals met Mr. Gandhi on the dais and presented him with a bow and arrow.
Among others who addressed the rally were the former Chief Ministers, Giridhar Gamang and Hemananda Biswal; Pradesh Congress Committee president K.P. Singh Deo; the former Union Minister, Bhakta Charan Das; Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly Bhupinder Singh; and Nabarangpur MP and president of the Orissa Pradesh Youth Congress Pradeep Majhi.
“Wind up refinery”
Green Kalahandi president Siddharth Naik and prominent leader of Niyamgiri Surakhsha Samiti Lado Sikaka demanded that Vedanta shut down its operations in the region and wind up its aluminium refinery.
Both Green Kalahandi and Niyamgiri Suraksha Samiti have been opposing Vedanta's plans for long.
State leaders alleged that the Naveen Patnaik government was repressing the tribals to protect the interests of various companies, in the name of industrialistion. This attitude would not be tolerated.