Allahabad, Nov. 14: Rahul Gandhi today asked Uttar Pradesh how long its people will “beg on the streets of Maharashtra”, referring to the drought of economic opportunities that is triggering large-scale migration from the state.
“The poor in Uttar Pradesh are most sought after in Maharashtra and in Delhi for construction work. They migrate to affluent states in search of jobs. Till when will people from Uttar Pradesh continue to beg on the streets of Maharashtra? When will you wake up? The day you wake up, the government of the poor will be formed in the state,” said the Congress leader, evoking a cheer from the crowd in Phulpur, once the constituency of Jawaharlal Nehru.
Rahul demanded more than just a cheer from the audience, largely made of youths, but also included some elders who had attended Nehru’s meeting in the 1960s.
“But tell me when, I want an answer from you,” Rahul egged on the 1-lakh-plus crowd.
The youngsters quickly waved their hands and bellowed: “We will, we will... from tomorrow.”
Rahul was kicking off his party’s campaign for next year’s Assembly elections from Phulpur, 30km from here, on the 123 birth anniversary of Nehru.
The Congress leader seemed to be anchoring his party’s campaign on the development plank. It remains to be seen if such a strategy can break the play of caste and other such factors in the heartland. But, he appeared to be pinning hopes on the young, who have little option but to leave Uttar Pradesh in search of jobs in more prosperous states, where they are often subjected to taunts and viewed with mistrust.
The BJP appeared to seize the literal meaning of what Rahul said, describing the expression “begging” as an insult to the people of Uttar Pradesh. “How many times Rahul Gandhi has gone to Maharashtra and seen people from UP and Bihar begging there?” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said in New Delhi.
However, AICC general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said: “What Rahul Gandhi said is clearly linked to the state’s swabhimaan. How can this be called an insult if somebody says that people of his state should not be roaming around here and there in search of livelihood?”
The story is not Uttar Pradesh’s alone. Migration out of helplessness is increasingly becoming the narrative of states, which lost the development race, including Bengal, which now provides the construction labour force for southern states.
In Phulpur today, the young were holding up placards that said: “We will remember Nehru’s ideology but follow Rahul Gandhi.”
The railway ground was readied for the launch of Rahul Gandhi as a leader from Uttar Pradesh with posters of Nehru and his great grandson fluttering all around the venue. Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, too, smiled from some posters, but it was clear the stress was on Rahul.
The newspaper advertisements for the Congress had set the mood for the aggressive campaign.
One said: “Yuvaon ka aakrosh ka , kisano ka rosh ka, sare am jungleraj ka, jawab hum denge (For the anger of the youth, the fury of the farmers and the open jungle raj in the state, we will give a fitting reply).”
In his 25-minute long speech, Rahul’s unwavering theme was the poor in Uttar Pradesh. “The condition of the poor in Uttar Pradesh did not change; they are where they used to be 20 years ago,” he said.
Rahul drew attention to the way things have changed. “This constituency was once represented by Jawaharlal Nehru. However, now it is represented by a mafia leader.” He did not name anyone but the sitting MP is the BSP's Kapilmuni Karwaria, an alleged gangster-turned-politician.
Nehru had contested first from Phulpur in 1952, then part of the Allahabad East constituency and won. Nehru last contested from Phulpur in 1962 and defeated Ram Manohar Lohia.
Lakhsmi Narayan Tripathi, 71, who saw Nehru campaign in 1962, said today: “Rahul Gandhi sounds as sincere as Nehru used to be. Like Nehru's self-reliance theme, I am happy to see Rahul talking about development.”
Rahul used the opportunity to deliver a repartee, too. “I get angry when I see people cool despite atrocities being perpetrated on them,” he said. Chief minister Mayawati had asked two days ago why Rahul did not get angry over inflation.
Rahul for the first time hit out against both the government of Mayawati and that of her predecessor Mulayam Singh Yadav. The Congress leader called the Mayawati government the “most corrupt” and said Mulayam Singh used to be perennially “under the control of the mafia”.
“Under the Mayawati government, if you don't have money, no first information report will be filed. In her regime, farmers got killed in Bhatta Parsaul by police who branded them Naxalites, women were raped for protesting against land acquisition, money sent for drought-affected areas did not reach the poor and an entire bridge collapsed recently as enough cement was not used. During Mulayam Singh's time, the mafia would control the police station and instead of the accused, the complainant used to be slapped cases,” Rahul said. The Congress general secretary said Parliament would pass the food bill but wondered who would benefit, “the poor or the BSP party workers in Uttar Pradesh?”