Virtually setting the tone for the Lok Sabha election, Congress party's general secretary Rahul Gandhi kicked off his Discover India journey on Friday from tribal Nuapada district of Orissa, as part of the Congress strategy to reach out to the 'last man in society'.
Sans any road show, the much-hyped four-day tour of Orissa began with a visit to a watershed programme at Nangalbod village where Rahul interacted with farmers, women and members of self help groups.
Accorded a warm welcome by locals during his maiden visit to the backward region, that reported starvation deaths in the 1990s, the Congress Member of Parliament inquired from the nearly 150 beneficiaries of the watershed programme about the Western Orissa Rural Livelihood Project implemented by an NGO.
As the young leader sought to get acquainted with the problems of tribals, farmers, youths and the poor, the villagers explained to him the benefits of the programme, which they said was changing the quality of life in the area.
"Good work is being done. It will certainly bring progress in the area," Rahul said as WORLP beneficiaries and functionaries narrated details of water recharging facilities and irrigation.
Rahul, who was not accompanied by any party leader, was also told about the need for a school in the area by sarpanch Padu Lohar.
Earlier, the scion of the Gandhi family was welcomed by Congress' Orissa in-charge and Union Minister Ajay Maken and Youth Congress president Ashok Tanwar at the helipad.
Rahul also visited a residential care centre and interacted with children there. "The initiative by the Centre will go a long way in arresting the drop-out rate and raising literacy," he said.
During the nearly two-hour visit to the area, he was told by SHG member Kishori Majhi that steps were required to bring down rate of the interest rate on loans taken by group members, as their funds were blocked in the banks.
Attentively listening to the problems highlighted by the local people, Gandhi advised Majhi to send across a letter listing their difficulties.
The young leader was also seen taking notes during his interaction with various sections of people before he left for Lanjigarh in neighbouring Kalahandi district.
During his whirlwind tour of Orissa, Gandhi is scheduled to criss-cross 13 of the 30 districts of the state, said Congress leaders.