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Modi looms on Rahul show

Sonia Gandhi reaches out to accept a bouquet from a supporter during a visit to Rae Bareli on Monday. (PTI)

New Delhi, Feb. 24: Rahul Gandhi today veered off land, credit and pesticide-related questions at a farmers’ meeting to focus on “one person”.

“The BJP believes in giving power to one person and I want to empower you all,” the Congress leader told a rally in Haryana’s Sonepat, bordering Delhi.

The allusion to Narendra Modi was significant as the meeting was the Congress vice-president’s last in a series of public interactions to get feedback for the party manifesto.

“The BJP believes in concentrating power. They think one or two people can run the country... they think the entire knowledge rests with only one person… who can do everything. We in the Congress believe in giving power to the people,” Rahul said.

The manifesto meets have been touted as a unique exercise initiated by Rahul. He had met porters in Delhi recently as part of the drill.

Today’s gathering saw the farmers demand better prices, a three-year moratorium on loan repayments, tax relief and a provident fund scheme. Rahul promised to respond by spelling out policy initiatives in the manifesto.

The Congress leader warned against the BJP’s “divisive and deceptive politics” and referred to the alleged harassment of some Sikh farmers at Kutch in Modi-ruled Gujarat.

“The Congress and the BJP think differently. For us, everyone is an insider. Even an Indian living in the US is an insider. For them, a “UP wallah” in Maharashtra is an outsider, a Sikh in Gujarat is an outsider, someone from Haryana in Punjab is an outsider.”

Rahul said some of the Gujarat farmers had complained to Congress leaders. “They (the Gujarat farmers) were crying and asked us if are we Indians or outsiders. They said we came from Pakistan, prepared the land and today we are told we are outsiders.”

Modi had yesterday dubbed the claims a “misinformation” campaign. He had earlier denied moves to oust the farmers. Although the controversy erupted a few months ago, Rahul’s remarks suggest the Congress and the BJP were bound to make it a poll plank.

Rahul also accused the BJP of taking credit for the Congress’s achievements. He alleged that the BJP had in the past laid claim to the mobile and IT revolution in India after having made fun of his father (Rajiv Gandhi) as a “computer boy”. He said the BJP had also patted itself for Gujarat’s milk revolution and claimed it had been nurtured by the Congress.

Rahul said he feared the BJP could one day claim authorship of the NREGA and the Food Security Act — flagship welfare schemes of the Congress-led UPA.

He vowed to bring a “complete change” in the Congress’s ticket-distribution process in five years to give farmers and villagers a bigger say in governance.

“The 5,000-6,000 elected representatives in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabhas (state Assemblies) are not sent by you (the people). You think that you voted for them but you actually did not. The selection is done by only 300-500 people like me and Hoodaji (chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda who was present at the meet).”

Rahul appeared to suggest that he and other senior leaders picked candidates and indicated that the people should have a role in deciding the party’s poll nominees.

The poor presence of women at today’s event didn’t escape his eye. “There should be a day when we call a meeting, I should see 50 per cent women,” Rahul said.