Targeting the Naveen Patnaik government, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday insisted that his party always supported tribals’ struggle to prevent bauxite mining in their sacred Niyamgiri Hills in Odisha.

Alleging that the mining mafia was calling the shots in the State, Mr. Gandhi said local tribals never benefited from the mining-based industrialisation promoted by the Naveen Patnaik government. “A big company was trying to take away Niyamgiri for mining with the support of the State government. We opposed the move and tribals finally emerged victorious,” the Congress leader said addressing an election rally here in the tribal heartland of Koraput. Though the Congress-led government had brought in the Forest Rights Act and the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, the Biju Janata Dal-ruled State government failed to implement the laws, Mr. Gandhi said.

It had also diverted Central funds released under the Tribal Sub-Plan, besides misutilising huge funds of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, he alleged.

The Congress, he said, had launched the KBK (Kalahandi, Bolangir and Koraput) scheme and the Indravati Irrigation Project to improve the economic condition of the people in this region but the present State government failed to capitalise on these measures.

Launching a scathing attack on the BJD’s anti-corruption plank, Mr. Gandhi raked up scams that had surfaced in the State. “The government is involved in a Rs. 60,000-crore mining scam, a Rs.20,000-crore chit fund scam, a Rs.22,000-crore rice scam, a Rs.4,000-crore housing scam, a Rs.700-crore dal (lentils) scam and a Rs.500-crore MGNREGA scam.”

Asserting that his family had always bonded with tribals, the Gandhi scion said he had learnt a lot from their culture. “Although they live in jungles, tribals are not destroyers of the forest. The rest of us have a lot to learn from tribals.”

Before leaving the venue, Mr. Gandhi came out of the security ring and mingled with tribal men and women, who jostled with one another to shake hands with him.