Even though Purulia happens to be a Left stronghold with the Communists retaining the seat for the last three decades, Gandhi’s visit brought in a wave of excitement among the locals. He raised issues like NREGA while trying to connect with the people of the most backward region of the state.
Some could not decipher what he was saying in Hindi while some did not know the issues he was talking about. When Gandhi began speaking about the Indo-US nuclear deal, Tapan Mahato (65) was left dumbstruck and had no idea what the fuss was all about. On being explained by a Congress leader that the deal will bring electricity to the villages, he looked a little satisfied.
“I have come here to see him. We were told that some big political leader is coming to our constituency for the first time,” said Phulmani Murmu (35) who came walking all the way from Ramnagar, about five kms away from the site.
Gandhi arrived at 11.50 am and left by 12.20 pm. The landing of the helicopters provided a visual treat to the onlookers in the tribal belt. The people did not mind getting smeared with dust as the helicopter descended on the barren dusty ground.
For a couple of hours, around 30,000 people braved the scorching sun and temperature soaring up to 49 degrees Celsius just to catch a glimpse of the young Gandhi scion. Realising the plight of his listeners, Gandhi thanked the people who came out to hear him. With the rousing reception he received, Gandhi shrugged off security concerns to mingle with the people.
He came near the fence and held out his hand to the people in the crowd while his security guards struggled to maintain a distance between him and the people.
While Congress leaders on the dais talked about their long association with the Gandhi family and attending rallies with Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi, a few in the crowd were not sure whether Rahul Gandhi or Rajiv Gandhi had come to meet them.
All roads led to Sainik School Purulia in the morning with buses carrying loads of people to the rally site. Most of them trudged all the way to the site. Murmu had come all the way from Barabajara, about 50 km from Purulia town, to see the leader. He says that he has never seen such a crowd and has high hopes that there will be some development as “big people” from Delhi are coming to his land.
In the Maoist belt of Purulia, however, where political activity is not much visible other than wall graffiti and roadside flags and banners, the people are still not sure whether to venture out on the polling day with the rise in Maoist activities.