Bihar Congress chief Ashok Choudhary garlands Rahul Gandhi during the election campaign in Aurangabad on Tuesday. Picture by Suman
Aurangabad, April 1: Rahul Gandhi today kickstarted his campaign in Bihar by training guns on Nitish Kumar, the man with whom the Congress briefly flirted for an alliance, and questioning his secular credentials.
“He (Nitish Kumar) did not resign from the NDA in 2002. Today he is claiming to be secular,” Rahul said at a public meeting in Aurangabad’s Gandhi Maidan, repeating the old charge against the Bihar chief minister. Nitish was railway minister during the post-Godhra riots in Narendra Modi-ruled Gujarat, a fact that his detractors, especially Rahul’s ally Lalu Prasad, have time and again pointed out.
Rahul also questioned the Nitish government’s development claims. “When would his promises of development in Bihar be fulfilled?” the Congress leader asked and wondered why Nitish had failed to get industries to the state and power growth.
In the run-up to the announcement of Lok Sabha polls, there were indications that the JD(U) could tie up with the Congress. The political grapevine suggested that Rahul himself preferred Nitish to RJD chief Lalu — the Congress leader had made a big show over the ordinance to protect convicted politicians, saying it should be torn up. However, the failure of the Centre to accord special status to Bihar or economic incentives resulted in the JD(U) developing cold feet towards an alliance with the Congress.
Over 20,000 people turned up to hear Rahul’s first rally in the state for the upcoming election. The Congress has fielded former Kerala governor Nikhil Kumar — also an ex-commissioner of Delhi police — from Aurangabad.
Rahul reached the venue around 5pm, two hours behind schedule. He had spent the morning addressing a rally in Jharkhand’s Godda and was to have attended another meeting at Gumla. But the helicopter that was to ferry him from Ranchi to Gumla developed a snag and the second rally had to be cancelled. Rahul flew to Gaya in a chartered aircraft and then took a helicopter to Aurangabad, about 100km to the west.
Rahul, clad in jeans and kurta, could take heart from the fact that chunk of the crowd today was youths who were responsive to his statements on growth and jobs. The Congress leader, who spoke for a little over 20 minutes, was aggressive as he reached out to the young voter, asking them if there were jobs to be had in the state and getting a loud “No” in response.
He interacted with the youths in the front rows, who said that many of them have to leave the state and often the country in search of jobs. Rahul reminded them the Congress manifesto has promised more than 10 crore jobs in the coming five years.
Rahul promised to extend all help for the long pending North Koel irrigation project that would benefit farmers of more than 25 panchayats in Aurangabad district.
“For the last 10 years, the Congress has been ruling for the poor. Our aim is uplift of those in the BPL category and the middle class. It is the NDA leaders who raise objections to the welfare beneficiary schemes of the Congress meant for the poor. We have ruled for the poor for the past 10 years and now we want to empower people with the right of medicine, health and a concrete roof replacing the thatched roof of their houses,” he said.
Rahul also ridiculed suggestions of the Gujarat model being adopted for Bihar, saying the state should have its own model of growth.