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Copter snag hits Cong on Fools’ Day

- Sonia rally on Friday to make up for Rahul’s Gumla no-show
The dais erected for Rahul Gandhi in Gumla is empty as the Congress vice-president couldn’t make it to the venue on Tuesday, leaving local party candidate Rameshwar Oraon (right) a nervous wreck. Earlier, Rahul addressed a gathering in neighbouring Godda (below). Pictures by Hardeep Singh and PTI

Gumla, April 1: Rahul Gandhi made Congress nominee from Godda Furqan Ansari smile and his Lohardaga counterpart Rameshwar Oraon in neighbouring Gumla sweat.

Congress vice-president and UPA star campaigner Rahul slammed BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi in rebel-hit Godda this morning, saying the much-hyped Gujarat model balloon would “burst”, but disappointed thousands in neighbouring Gumla with his “April Fool” non-appearance when his snag-hit chopper failed to take off.

As the snag could not be repaired, Congressmen tried to mend matters by promising a Sonia Gandhi rally in nearby Chatra on April 4.

Rahul, who reached Ranchi this morning by special flight, flew to Godda in a chopper to address a rally backing Congress candidate and former MP Ansari, pitted against BJP’s sitting MP Nishikant Dubey. Comparing the Gujarat model with the 2004 India Shining campaign, he said: “The Opposition is pumping air in the balloon and blowing it up. The model will burst after elections.”

Reminding people about UPA flagship schemes such as the MGNREGS in the past decade, he urged voters to “press the button” for UPA-III and promised a Women’s Reservation Bill if returned to power.

But MP hopeful Rameshwar Oraon, waiting in vain in neighbouring Gumla for the Rahul effect to push his poll prospects for Lohardaga, which votes on April 10, retired hurt.

After the Godda rally, Jharkhand state chief Sukhdeo Bhagat noticed smoke billowing out of Rahul’s double engine chopper of ABC Trading Private Ltd in Ranchi around 1pm.

Though Rahul wanted to reach Gumla anyhow, directorate-general of civil aviation (DGCA) and special protection group (SPG) stopped the Gandhi scion from flying in a single-seater helicopter or travelling by road for security reasons.

A disappointed Rahul flew to Aurangabad, Bihar, by the special flight. Gumla didn’t have an airstrip big enough for the aircraft to land.

It was anything but an April Fool joke, but for thousands waiting in Gumla throughout the day, it became one, and in poor taste.

“April Fool banai gailek (We became April Fool victims),” said farmer Sukhant Oraon from Shivrajpur village in Lohardaga. “I came to hear what Rahul Gandhi had to say about Lohardaga. Lack of irrigation facilities, bad roads, poor electricity and unemployment are major problems for the district.”

Who will he vote for now? “Ab sochenge. (I will think now),” the irritated farmer said.

ST reserved seat Lohardaga has Congressman Rameshwar Oraon fighting sitting BJP MP Sudarshan Bhagat, Independent-turned-TMC leader Chamra Linda and JVM’s Virendra Bhagat.

For Oraon, the timing of the Gumla no-show is particularly bad. Not only does he have to contend with internal rivalry of the Sukhdeo Bhagat lobby, the NaMo effect is fresh in the minds of the electorate.

Modi’s March 27 rally, coinciding with a Maoist bandh, managed a decent crowd count and earned immense goodwill in this hinterland.

In contrast, the Rahul no-show angered the tribal populace who got to know about the cancellation hours later, around 4.20pm, only after mediapersons said they would not wait any longer.

But Oraon put up a brave face.

Dismissing the TMC as a “Bay of Bengal party”, he said he was competing with the BJP.

“Ab Advaniji bhi Gandhinagar nahin jaate kabhi. Toh kya log vote nahin karte? (Advanji never goes to his constituency, does that mean people don’t vote?)

On partydroh or internal rifts, he stayed diplomatic.

Congress spokesperson Shailesh Sinha told The Telegraph over phone from Ranchi about the technical glitch. “After completing the rally in Godda, Rahulji returned to Ranchi around 1pm. Bhagat and senior leader Rajendra Prasad Singh were to accompany him to Gumla. They waited for two hours for the helicopter to get back into flying mode, but the trip had to be cancelled,” said Sinha.

Congress critics carped that the crowd turnout for Rahul in Gumla was thin. “There were lots of children below 18 years who don’t vote. There’s some 5,000-6,000 people here, not more,” said an ASI rank policeman on duty. “I was here at the Modi rally too. I know what I am talking about,” he said.

With inputs from Rudra Biswas in Ranchi


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