Congress supporters at Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Rampur on Wednesday. (PTI)
Lucknow, Oct. 9: Rahul Gandhi today accused politicians in riot-scarred Muzaffarnagar of driving a “wedge” between communities for electoral gain, launching a veiled attack on the Samajwadi Party and the BJP at rallies he addressed in two minority-dominated seats.
The Congress vice-president, who held meetings in Aligarh and Rampur in what appeared to be his campaign kick-off for 2014, also ridiculed Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s free laptop scheme, saying there was “no electricity” to power computers.
Rahul, however, did not take the name of BJP mascot Narendra Modi even once, preferring to concentrate his attack on the ruling Samajwadi Party. Observers said he appeared to be trying to score political points over the Samajwadis who claim to be defenders of the minorities.
Rahul first addressed the rally at Aligarh, where minorities account for over 35 per cent of the population. Congress leaders said it was a thanksgiving rally for Rahul’s July 2011 agitation for land rights for farmers.
His second rally was in Rampur, where 49 per cent of the residents are minorities.
The common theme at both was the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar that left dozens dead and displaced thousands, most of them minorities.
In Aligarh, Rahul said that when he had visited Muzaffarnagar last month and spoken to both Hindus and Muslims, they told him they had “no enmity” between them. “Politicians drove a wedge between them, causing the riots. The riots were engineered for political gain. People from one community were set against another…. Historically, Hindus and Muslims have stood united together and that is why this country is progressing,” he added, to roars of applause.
Rahul said Uttar Pradesh was regressing economically as “people get split here on communal lines instigated by politicians. But I can assure you the Congress will work with you in uniting the communities for that is its legacy and ours is a party to promote rights of people, be it Hindu or Muslim”.
The Congress leader, however, began his speech with a blistering attack on the Akhilesh government’s free laptop scheme for students. “He had promised big, but are laptops, computers working? They are not, because there is no electricity in the state,” he said.
At Rampur, Rahul said the common man does not want riots. “But there are forces that want to divide them on the basis of religion and caste,” he told the rally, implicitly attacking both the ruling Samajwadi and the BJP, some of whose legislators have been accused of making provocative speeches.
“Politicians don’t ever die in riots, it is the poor who face the brunt,” he said.
Rahul appeared to be courting the minorities, hoping for a repeat of 2009 when the Congress got a large share of minority votes in the wake of Muslim disenchantment with Mulayam Singh Yadav following the Samajwadi leader’s alliance with former BJP chief minister Kalyan Singh.
Early poll surveys say the Congress, which won 22 of the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh in 2009, could lose ground heavily in 2014.
Observers said Rahul chose to concentrate his attack on the Samajwadi because, in case of a polarisation of votes, the Congress hopes to wrest the secular space that Mulayam’s party has occupied.