Barefoot and wearing only a knee-length loincloth, Dasaram haggles with security personnel at the end of Rahul Gandhi’s address at Kondagaon stadium. “My three-cell torch,” demands the elderly farmer.
They had made him deposit it when he and neighbours were herded in from Lawagaon village, some 45 km away, and he cannot find the policemen who had collected it. “Where can we file a complaint for the torch?” a friend asks. “Three-cell torch,” Dasaram corrects him. His village is among many in tribal Bastar without power, and where the torch is not only indispensable but hard to get, available only in town markets and at a price high for a family below the poverty line.
Three days earlier, Nanku Ram had lost his radio in similar fashion during a rally of Narendra Modi at the same venue.
Modi and Rahul had each stressed his special concerns for tribals and accused the other of shedding crocodile tears. On Monday, Rahul repeatedly asserted his party alone understands the pain of the poor.
Tribals came from far-off places on the promise of a meal. “We are here since ten in the morning, and have not got even water,” says a woman. Jairam Koram of Sonaval drove a van, some 15 persons, and admitted he was given “a designated amount” for each passenger.
At both rallies, a third of the tribals looked below the line of poverty, and many did not know even the names of the speakers. Besides, the tribals did not know Hindi, the language in which they were addressed, speaking only Gondi and Halbi.
Midway through their addresses, some tribal women removed their parties’ flags from wooden poles, draped these as headscarves, and left. They were from villages hours away and had gathered since morning. Both the leaders were late by hours.
Dasaram and his friends haven’t left, though. They wander through the streets, looking for the cop who took the “three-cell torch”.