Jagdalpur (Chhattisgarh), Sep 26: They cheered, clapped and climbed atop chairs to catch a glimpse of Rahul Gandhi, but at the end of it all, for the locals and tribals of Bastar, the Congress vice president was just a celebrity as he was “Indira Gandhi’s grandson”.
The Gandhi scion has arrived here for a rally to address issues related to tribals who dominate the region, with assembly elections due in the state in November.
The tribals of Bastar voted overwhelmingly for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2008 assembly elections with the party bagging 11 of the 12 seats from the region.
In his speech, Gandhi talked about how the tribals are being neglected with regard to land, health and education issues. But it seemed, the Congress vice-president failed to strike a chord with the tribals who were treating him more as a celebrity than a leader.
“I was told Indira Gandhi’s grandson is coming. She had visited us a long time back. So, I came to see him (Rahul Gandhi),” said Jheeni Devi, 62 one of the many tribals who arrived at the venue in dozens of trucks and buses.
Around 10,000 people came to hear Gandhi.
Similar views were shared by her neighbour, 34-year-old Raju who was happy to see the young Gandhi and cheered and clapped all through his speech, but only because he was “Indira Ji’s grandson”.
“He is from the Gandhi family. My father told me about Indira ji,” Raju said, though sheepishly admitting that he was not impressed by the young Gandhi’s speech.
“He is talking about our rights and issues, but we are happy with the present government as well,” he said.
Interestingly, there were many like Raju who came just because they heard that someone from the Gandhi family was coming to meet them,
When the IANS correspondent asked 22-year-old Briha why she decided to attend the rally, her answer was “Gandhi” as she pointed towards the stage where Rahul Gandhi was seated.
Many of them admitted that they came to the rally ground just because their family and friends were coming.
But some were willing to give the Congress party a chance.
“I will vote for the Congress if they seriously deliver what they are promising,” said Bhumir Singh, a tribal and a daily wage labourer.
This was the first rally after the Maoists’ May 25 ambush and killings of senior Congress leaders, including Vidya Charan Shukla, Nandkumar Patel and tribal leader Mahendra Karma who founded the Salwa Judum to combat the Maoists.