The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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No garlands please, this is Rahul

New Delhi, April 19: Rahul Gandhi’s crusade against the “mai baap culture in the family’s Amethi-Rae Bareli fief has the Congress worried.

The son is managing Sonia Gandhi’s election campaign in Rae Bareli, which will vote on May 8. While no one in the party’s 24 Akbar Road headquarters doubts her victory ' the claim is she will surpass her 2.5 lakh margin of 2004 ' there is scepticism over the Amethi MP’s style of functioning, which is seen as more “western than Indian”.

First, Rahul has put up a board outside the guesthouse in Amethi’s Munshiganj, where he usually stays on visits to the constituency, that no one should touch his feet. Genuflecting before a neta ' young or old ' is de rigueur in Uttar Pradesh. It was a gesture that even Rahul’s father, Rajiv Gandhi, did not try to do away with notwithstanding his zeal to take India into the 21st century.

An Uttar Pradesh Congress associate of Rahul said: “His orders are straight. If somebody is a contemporary of his father or his mother, he will not allow them to touch his feet. He tells the younger workers all are equal, so why should one human being prostrate before another'”

Initially nobody would listen, but after he spelt it out in black and white, the number of feet-touching supplicants has dwindled.

Next, he has told local leaders not to bring him flowers and garlands ' something that has reportedly annoyed them.

But it is Rahul’s handling of sifaarish (favour-seeking) that is giving the Congress the heebie-jeebies. Unlike the quintessential politician, used to receiving notes from his workers and voters with a ritualistic nod of the head, which often denotes that nothing will be done, Rahul earnestly peruses the requests he is handed. He does a spot check of which application is genuine and which is not, the associate said.

However, even a bona fide applicant is not assured of instant results. If it is a Congress worker, Rahul hands them an assignment with a deadline. If the job is done, the worker is “rewarded”. This element of quid pro quo has allegedly put off traditional beneficiaries of the Gandhi family’s largesse, who are used to living off doles.

“He keeps the power-brokers at bay and only indulges the committed workers,” the associate said. Rahul’s laptop is crammed with data on workers of every block and taluka of Amethi, which he is expected to replicate in Rae Bareli. With the click of a key, he is able to tell who has “delivered” and who has not. “The laggards and cheaters automatically get eliminated from his list of favourites,” he said.

A senior Congress functionary insisted Rahul’s style of functioning should not be mistaken for “aloofness”. In his unscheduled village walkabouts ' public meetings put him off ' he unhesitatingly stops at people’s homes to have a glass of water (not mineral, it was stressed) or a cup of tea. “It’s not as though he was born and bred in the West. He has spent the greater part of his life in India, and Uttar Pradesh is part and parcel of this. If he is trying to reform the political culture, people have to see it with an open mind. There will be resistance but eventually his style will be accepted,” he said.

Family loyalist Satish Sharma, Manoj Mattoo, a retired wing commander and a cousin of his father, and K.L. Sharma are the young MP’s key aides in this election campaign.

Should the media chance on Rahul in his Amethi-Rae Bareli peregrinations, sour-ces said, “he always speaks with an open heart and mind”.

“In Delhi, he appears shy. But his constituency does something and he even speaks about his girlfriend and her family. Sometimes we are a bit rattled. But it shows how sincere and transparent he is,” a source said.

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