Umerkote/Nabrangpur (Odisha), March 31:
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi Monday said a mafia was running the state government and looting the mineral wealth of Odisha.
Addressing a rally at a ground named after Indira Gandhi, his late grandmother, at Umarkot in Nabrangpur district, Rahul Gandhi said the Congress has always protected the interests of all sections of people, be they farmers, poor or tribals.
He said it was the Congress which fought for the interests of the tribals in Niyamgiri and for farmers in Bhatta Parsaul.
“In Niyamgiri, the Congress stood with you. We together saved the hills,” he said.
“Odisha is a rich state but its people are poor. The main reason is your government is giving up your wealth to a handful of people. It does not utilise it on your education, employment.”
Criticising the Naveen Patnaik government for diverting money sent by the central government for welfare of tribals, he said: “We send special funds for the tribals but the state government diverts it.”
Highlighting the programmes launched in the last 10 years by the Congress-led government, he said crores of people are benefiting from the employment guarantee schemes.
“This scheme lifted 15 crore poor people from the below poverty line,” he said.
He also said the Congress gave the right to food to ensure food security to the poor and the right to information to bring transparency in governance.
Gandhi said his party has also taken measures for empowerment of women.
“We gave 50 percent reservation to you in panchayats. Our efforts will be to pass the women reservation bill so that 33 percent reservation is available for women in the assemblies and parliament.”
The Congress leader also criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, saying people in the NDA say they will bring progress, but they never utter a word on farmers, poor or tribals.
A leader of the state’s ruling Biju Janata Dal refuted the allegations made by Gandhi.
“It is the Congress which is running the mining mafia,” BJD vice president Kalpataru Das said.
Elections to the state’s 147-member assembly and for 21 Lok Sabha seats would be held simultaneously in two phases April 10 and 17.