Both Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Odisha chief minister Naveen Patnaik on Monday tried to woo the tribal voters of the undivided Koraput district.
Congress party vice-president Rahul Gandhi (C) gestures to his party workers before addressing a rally ahead of the 2014 general elections at Balasinor, Gujarat. (Reuters Photo)
With two Lok Sabha and 14 assembly seats, the undivided Koraput in southern Odisha comprises four districts – Koraput, Rayagada, Malkangiri and Nabarangpur.
The tribal population is the highest in Malkangiri (57.87%), followed by Rayagada (55.75%), Nabarangpur (55.03%) and Koraput (49.62%).
Gandhi on Monday addressed two rallies, one each in Koraput and Nabarangpur, both Lok Sabha constituencies.
Patnaik also addressed three rallies in Koraput on Monday, after covering six other rallies in the four districts on Saturday.
At a rally in Lunguri village near Semiliguda, Gandhi tried to strike a chord with the tribals, saying his family shared a special bond with the tribals of Odisha.
Indeed, a 15,000-strong crowd attended the rally and the Semiliguda main market was shut as the tribals went to see "Indira Gandhi's grandson", in the words of locals.
Gandhi said the Centre had taken steps to improve the lot of tribals with projects like KBK (Kalahandi-Balangir-Koraput) and MGNREGA, besides providing funds to the state.
He blamed the ruling Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government in Odisha for not using the funds to benefit the tribals, and instead looting their resources.
"The funds sent by the Centre are not reaching the tribals. Thousands of crores of rupees are being siphoned off by the BJD," he said.
Gandhi also slammed the BJD for supporting a big mining company that wanted to mine bauxite from Niyamgiri hills.
"The hills belong to the tribals. We fought along with the tribals against the company and I am happy that the tribals won," he said.
On the other hand, Patnaik accused the Congress and the BJP of feigning sympathy for tribals but doing nothing.
At a rally in Dumiriput, around 12km from Gandhi's rally, the chief minister told the crowds, "Development of backward areas like Koraput has always been the priority of my government. After the central government stopped the KBK project, the state government has started Biju KBK project to improve the lot of tribals."
He said Odisha had seen development on all fronts in the past 14 years of BJD rule, but the Congress and the BJP were trying to hinder the ruling party's development work.
The undivided Koraput has traditionally been a Congress stronghold.
In the 2004 elections, Congress had won eight of the 14 assembly seats and both Koraput and Nabarangpur Lok Sabha seats here.
But in 2009, BJD stormed the Congress' bastion here by winning 10 assembly seats and the Koraput Lok Sabha seat.