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Rahul follows father’s footsteps in Orissa

On the second day of his trip, Rahul Gandhi visited Gunupur where Rajiv Gandhi addressed his last public meeting, reports Soumyajit Pattnaik.
Hindustan Times | By Soumyajit Pattnaik, Bhubaneswar
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2008 01:47 AM IST

On the second day of his ‘Discover India’ trip to Orissa, Amethi MP Rahul Gandhi visited Gunupur in Rayagada district where his father Rajiv Gandhi addressed his last public meeting.

On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi visited Gunupur, accompanied by the then Orissa Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) president Giridhar Gamang and addressed an election rally. He then stopped over at Visakhapatnam on his way to Sriperumbudur, where he was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber.

Addressing the gathering, Rahul said: “You are lucky to have seen my father speak at his last public meeting. Even I could not get that opportunity.”

Emotions ran high at the meeting as Gamang recalled Rajiv’s last public address. “It was tough to control my emotions as I was present when Rajivji spoke here on May 21, 1991. After seventeen years, I’m accompanying his son Rahul Gandhi. Words failed me when I rose to speak,” Gamang told Hindustan Times.

But politics was not the only item on Rahul’s agenda. The Gandhi also visited Panposh Sports Hostel at Rourkela, which has produced 34 outstanding hockey players who have represented India such as Dilip Tirkey, Ignace Tirkey, Prabodh Tirkey, Subhadra Pradhan, Binita Toppo etc. At present, five national players in women’s hockey team and four in the men’s team live in the Sports Hostel. The AICC leader lunched with the hockey players.

S Toppo, a coach of the Sports Hostel told Hindustan Times: “The players requested Rahul to give them public sectors jobs in and around Rourkela so that they can concentrate on sport, without worrying about money.

While Rahul’s speeches on Friday emphasised how the Gandhis had always worked for the tribals of Orissa, he stressed on the neglect of youth power and the Congress blueprint to harness it on Saturday.

Rahul said he had never seen the kind of poverty that exists in this state. Addressing the public at Bamra later, Gandhi said: “For the past two days, I have been visiting areas inhibited by tribals and Dalits. As the MP of Amethi I focus on Uttar Pradesh and thought my state was backward. But I have never seen this kind of poverty.”

However, feathers were ruffled within the state party unit as some Congress workers felt slighted for not being allowed to go near Rahul.

At Gunupur, some local Congress leaders boycotted the meeting after being denied permission by the Special Protection Group (SPG) to meet the AICC leader. On Friday too, some local leaders at Ijurpa in Kalahandi left the meeting venue after they were denied permission to meet their leader. A senior police official looking after security at the meeting venues explained: “Security concerns cannot be overlooked…”

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