Whose agitation?
The Indian Express Posted online: Sat Aug 28 2010, 23:51 hrs

Rahul Gandhi kept a two-year-old date with the inhabitants of Orissa’s
Niyamgiri hills on Thursday. In what became a highly charged visit to
Lanjigarh, site of Vedanta’s controversial refinery, he set out the
timeline at a Congress-organised rally for tribal rights: “This is
your victory. You saved your own land. Two years ago you had come to
me saying the Niyamgiri hill is your god. I told you I would be your
sipahi (soldier) in Delhi. I am happy that I have helped you in
whatever way I could.” He did not get into details of Vedanta’s now
cancelled bauxite mining project. The message was delivered in a
disarming manner now associated with Rahul Gandhi — sentences scrubbed
down to remove the stock, and therefore false-sounding, words from the
rallyist’s phrasebook; a spontaneous connect with those gathered
without fawning intermediaries. But the Niyamgiri visit does mark a
change in his way of political mobilisation.
Rahul Gandhi is perhaps the most powerful general secretary in the
Congress’s history. He is powerful in part for being seen to be his
party’s future. As he has criss-crossed the country, connecting with
the “aam aadmi”, it has been seen to be an effort at including various
constituencies in a forward-looking way. So he has flummoxed his
political opponents by casually taking a local train in Mumbai, having
a meal in a Dalit household, chatting with university students — how
do they counter the charisma of a man unhurriedly telling folks
there’s a future to be built? Now, at Lanjigarh in Kalahandi district
he has taken responsibility for winging a government action a certain
way — if not for the actual decision by the Union environment ministry
against the bauxite project, at least for advocating a certain point
of view. The decision came two days before Rahul Gandhi visited
Orissa, when preparations for the visit had already been made.

The government is the right authority to take a call on the legitimacy
of the bauxite project. But the message that the Congress’s
mobilisation in opposition-ruled states is backed by the Centre’s
actions has unsettling implications. Also, at Lanjigarh, the Congress
appears to be unbundling the “aam aadmi” on a case-by-case basis. This
carries the danger of it then having to balance different
constituencies with competing agendas.


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