New Delhi, Feb. 11: The Congress-Samajwadi Party “honeymoon” that started during UPA II’s last anniversary at 7 Race Course Road looks set to end.
A face-off has been sparked by yesterday’s stampede at the Maha Kumbh Mela, which was triggered by hordes of pilgrims rushing towards Allahabad railway station after a dip at the Sangam.
Uttar Pradesh urban development minister Azam Khan, who was tasked to oversee the Kumbh, blamed the railways for constructing a “faulty” over-bridge at the station. The first spot reports said the bridge collapse had caused panic in pilgrims, who fell over each other.
Railway minister Pawan Bansal denied the information, turning the tables on the Kumbh organisers. He claimed they had not been able to contain the record crowds that converged yesterday on Mauni Amavasya.
Uttar Pradesh government sources said chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, under pressure from the families of the dead and the wounded, had asked Khan not to join issue with Bansal but focus on rescue and relief that independent sources in Allahabad maintained were found “grossly wanting”.
A miffed Khan quit as the Kumbh in charge, accepting “moral responsibility” for the tragedy.
Last week, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi attacked the Akhilesh government for the first time while addressing party workers in Amethi, his constituency.
Uttar Pradesh Congress sources said they had forced Rahul to take a “tough line” against the state government. “The government’s been in power for a year. The time for showering plaudits is over and we should take a hard look at what it has done. People in Uttar Pradesh are very unhappy because Akhilesh has not delivered on his election promises. Rahul was told to feel the people’s pulse and speak accordingly. He managed to touch the right nerve and we, the workers, were happy. At last, we have a message to purvey,” a source said.
An Akhilesh aide said Rahul had “no business” to slam the government: “He never thinks of Uttar Pradesh as a whole. His world begins and ends in Rae Bareli and Amethi.”
The aide continued: “Our government gifted the Gandhis land free of cost to build an All India Institute of Medical Sciences like the one in Delhi. On top of it, Amethi and Rae Bareli are going to be linked by a six-lane highway. Can’t the Gandhis think of expanding the highway connectivity to Allahabad and beyond? They never will.”
The wordy duels, said sources in both parties, were spurred by the Lok Sabha elections scheduled for 2014. Mulayam Singh Yadav and the Gandhis, they said, perhaps felt it was time to re-assert the autonomy of their parties and re-define their identities instead of being twinned together.
Samajwadi sources said a reason for the party’s lacklustre showing in the 2009 elections was its support to UPA I that earned for them the label of being the Congress’s B-team. “We don’t want to repeat history,” a source said.