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Rahul starts five-day blitz

Rahul in Jharkhand on Friday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Feb. 7: Rahul Gandhi has kicked off a five-day schedule of public meetings across states that will tomorrow see him launch the Congress’s Lok Sabha campaign from Bardoli in Gujarat, the turf of his main rival.

The Congress vice-president’s packed programme of rallies comes at a time he is being pressed to focus more on public interactions than closed-door strategy sessions.

Rahul, who held three meetings in Jharkhand today, will participate in a march in Gujarat tomorrow morning. He will speak at a rally in the afternoon, his first since the Assembly polls debacle two months ago.

On Sunday, he will travel to Odisha where the Congress has been out of power for 14 years. He will interact with university students in Bhubaneswar’s town hall in the morning and address a rally in the afternoon in addition to a road show.

The following day, he will interact with members from the minority community in the town hall and then meet leaders of the party’s Odisha unit in the evening.

Rahul will be in Sonepat, Haryana, on Tuesday to discuss the party manifesto with farmers. That will mark a rare five-day outing without a break for him, mirroring his intensive campaign during the Uttar Pradesh elections two years ago.

Most Congress Lok Sabha members have been arguing that Rahul’s “good intentions” and zeal for reform are already widely known, and what he needs now are more “grassroots” interactions to build his image as a leader.

“He has identified a new target of 70 crore people below the middle class who need state support to grow,” a party source told The Telegraph today.

“That’s a noble idea but the message hasn’t gone out. The people he seeks to serve should be aware of his agenda. He has to talk to them directly.”

Many in the Congress believe that the party spokespersons can only hope for limited success in communicating the message to the people, and that only the “top leadership” can reach out to the grassroots.

Some of them also feel that Rahul should be seen as taking Narendra Modi on in the field. They say he can’t shy away from confronting his rival directly on issues and on their contrasting ideological positions and visions for the future.

This camp resents the tendency of certain members of Rahul’s inner ring to “restrain” or “control” him. It believes that the young Gandhi is better off without the counsel of “apolitical persons”.

One member of this camp said there was still a group within the party leadership that had little enthusiasm for a Modi-versus-Rahul clash and advised caution while attacking the Gujarat chief minister directly.

At Rahul’s meeting with party spokespersons and television panellists yesterday, many of those present had advocated the need to fight Modi “aggressively” and expose his “true face”.

Even Rahul had wondered why the Congress could not defend its good record of the past ten years and forcefully convey to the people that the communal forces were a threat to “the idea of India”.

The Congress has strengthened its media team but party strategists feel that the senior leaders would have to speak in public more often to capture a larger media space.

“Leaders at the top, from Sonia Gandhi to Manmohan Singh, will have to make their presence felt regularly while Rahul should been seen among the people of different states almost every day,” a young MP said.

“Even the next-rung leaders such as P. Chidambaram, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anand Sharma and Salman Khurshid should speak more. We have to behave like a ruling party and make an impact like Modi does.”