Bhanupratappur/Farasgaon | Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday promised free education in government schools and colleges in Chhattisgarh, Rs 4,000 a year for 'tendu' leaves collectors if his party retains power in the state, and slammed the BJP-led Centre over a host of issues.
Addressing election rallies in the Bhanupratappur and Farsgaon towns in the Naxal-hit Bastar division, Gandhi asked if Prime Minister Narendra Modi brings up 'OBC' (other backward class) in his speeches, then why he is scared of a caste census.
Caste census will be conducted in the country if the Congress is voted to power (at the Centre), he said.
While the Bhanupratappur assembly seat is located in the Kanker district, Farsgaon is a part of the Kondagaon constituency in neighbouring Kondagaon district.
The two seats are among the 20 constituencies that will see polling on November 7 in the first phase of the Chhattisgarh elections. The second phase will be held on November 17.
We are going to take a major step for you which we call 'KG to PG'. From KG (kindergarten) to PG (post-graduation), free education will be provided in government institutions to students (if Congress retains power in the state). They will not have to pay a single penny, Gandhi said.
Gandhi promised that if the Congress forms the government in the state after polls, then tendu leaves collectors will be given Rs 4,000 per year under the Rajiv Gandhi Protsahan Yojana. This is being seen as a major announcement from the tribal-dominated Bastar region where a large number of tribals and forest dwellers are associated with tendu leaf collection.
Pitching for a caste census, he said, Narendra Modi ji uses 'OBC' word in every speech and he identified himself as an OBC but why is he scared of the caste census? OBCs have to become aware as they are being ditched.
Gandhi also announced that the Congress would conduct a caste census in the country if it is voted to power in Delhi (at the Centre). We have already made this promise for Chhattisgarh, he said.
When the Congress-led UPA government was in power, it had carried out a caste census to ascertain the types of castes and sub-castes residing in the country and their population but PM Modi and BJP didn't reveal its report and kept it hidden, he said.
The Congress leader said the Government of India is not being run by MPs, but by 90 secretaries (bureaucrats) and they only decide the budget of the country.
I found that of a total of 90 secretaries at the Centre, only 3 are OBCs and 3 Adivasis. Only five per cent OBCs and 0.1 per cent Adivasis have representation in deciding the budget.. What could be more shameful than this, he asked.
Is the population of OBCs and Adivasis five per cent and 0.1 per cent in the country? The OBC constitutes about 50 per cent of the country's population. But Modi ji is trying to hide the population of OBCs, Dalits and Adivasis, he said.
Modi ji says in every speech that he is an OBC but if he actually wanted to support them he should tell the population of OBC. He never speaks about the caste census...We have promised to conduct a caste survey in Chhattisgarh if our party retains power, he added.
The Congress MP targeted the BJP-led Centre and claimed that it works for the benefit of two-three industrialists, stressing that his party works in the interest of farmers, Dalits, labourers and Adivasis.
There are only two ways of running a government. The first one is to benefit the richest people of the country and the other is to support the poor while there is no third way. Either you support who is in the front of the line or who is at the last, he said.
Key promises made by the Congress ahead of the last assembly polls have been fulfilled in Chhattisgarh, he claimed.
We had promised to give Rs 2,500 per quintal for paddy to farmers and now they are getting Rs 2,640 per quintal as our intention is clear. After some period it will become Rs 3,000 per quintal, he added.
Objecting to the use of 'vanvasi' in place of 'Adivasi' for tribals, Gandhi said its use by the BJP is an insult to Adivasis and an attack on their culture, history and language.
We call you Adivasi and they (BJP) call you vanvasi. There is a huge difference between the two words. Adivasis are original owners of Hindustan. They were the first owners of the land, water, and forests of the country and have first rights over them, he said.
The former Congress president said their party introduced PESA (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act) and ensured protection to jal, jungle, zameen (water, forest, land) of Adivasis and their culture and language.
Vanvasi means the one who resides in forests but does not have right over it...They (BJP) wanted to snatch your jal, jungle, zameen and hand them over to industrialists like Adani but we want to give you rights over them. This is the difference.
He said people will get a bonus of Rs 4,000 per year for tendu leaves collection directly in their bank accounts and an extra Rs 10 on support price for 70 different forest produce (if Congress comes to power again in Chhattisgarh).
Attacking the previous Raman Singh-led BJP government in the state, he said earlier youths of Bastar were killed in fake encounters. Whenever they got a chance they threatened (tribal youths) and carried out fake encounters, he said.
In Madhya Pradesh, a BJP leader urinated on a tribal youth.. this is the mindset of the BJP, Gandhi said, referring to the Sidhi urination incident.
The former Congress president further slammed the BJP saying it does not want tribals to learn English but its leaders send their children to English-medium schools.
BJP leaders talk about Hindi and say don't learn Chhattisgarhi (local dialect) and English. We want tribal youth to learn Chhattisgarhi, English as well as Hindi. All three languages have importance in different places.
Next time, when BJP leaders come to your place, ask them whether they send their children to English medium or Hindi medium schools. They all will say English medium. Actually, they don't want your children to learn English, do big business and work in call centres. he said.
The Congress government in Chhattisgarh has opened Swami Atmanand English Medium Schools to provide quality education, he added.
During his speech at Bhanupratappur, Gandhi stopped briefly and walked to the other corner of the stage carrying a bottle of water apparently after someone fainted on the ground. Gandhi returned to the dais and asked if the person was alright.