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‘Struggle’ on lips, Rahul thanks Amethi

Rahul Gandhi in Amethi on Wednesday. (PTI)

Lucknow, May 21: Rahul Gandhi returned to Amethi for the first time today since he survived a scare in his heartland constituency but spent most of the time with underprivileged residents of a village that lost five dozen homes to a fire.

The Congress vice-president, who was accompanied by sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, also met cadres with a pep talk that called for “struggle” in grim times for his election-routed party.

Both thanked the party workers and the people of Amethi for saving “our honour” but it was the devastated Pure Nidhan Kunwar village, where they drove straight from the airport, that was the focus.

“He went into most of the gutted homes. We could feel he was sympathising with us and assured us of all help,” Sitala Prasad, a 45-year-old resident who lost everything in the fire, told reporters in Amethi.

Local Congress leader Jagdish Piyush said Rahul directed his office in Amethi to work out a rehabilitation package for the mainly Dalit village, some 40km from Fursatganj airport.

Sources said brother and sister watched in silence the 60-odd houses that had been burnt to cinders and the bare blackened walls that stood amid heaps of charred belongings.

Congress district president Yogendra Mishra said Priyanka asked women self-help groups to stand by the affected families till a rehab plan is worked out.

Udai Raj, a villager, described how the fire broke out on May 19. It started at a roadside dump, he told Priyanka, before a mid-afternoon summer wind fanned the flames into a blaze that leaped from one thatched roof to another, leaving over 300 villagers, mostly Dalits, homeless.

Harishankar Tiwari, station house officer of Jamo police station under which the village falls, said it took five fire-engines to control the blaze. By the time the fire had been brought under control, nothing much was left, Tiwari said.

Earlier at the airport, the Congress MP spoke only a few words. Rahul thanked his supporters for ensuring his victory from the Uttar Pradesh seat that has now sent him to Parliament for the third time on the trot, though with a vastly reduced margin of 1.07 lakh, down 2.6 lakh from his 3.7-lakh margin in 2009.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra interacts with Amethi villagers who lost their homes in a fire. (PTI)

Aap logon ko bahut, bahut shukriya (Many, many thanks to you all),” he said.

Rahul beat the BJP’s Smriti Irani and the Aam Aadmi Party’s Kumar Vishwas who both tried to tap the discontent among Amethi residents and his alleged disconnect with party workers.

The visit came days after Rahul and his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, offered to resign at a working committee meeting in Delhi, taking responsibility for the party’s dismal performance in the national elections, but were persuaded to stay on.

Rahul, who held a brief meeting with party workers at his office in Amethi after visiting the fire-ravaged Pure Nidhan Kunwar village, said it was time to “struggle” and rebuild.

“It’s time for struggle. We are ready for it,” he said.

Priyanka, who had spearheaded the campaign for her brother, said: “The people of Amethi have saved our honour. We are thankful for it.”

Amethi and Sonia’s constituency Rae Bareli were the only two the Congress managed to retain in the 80-seat heartland, where the Narendra Modi-led BJP mopped up 71.

At the meeting, when some party workers pointed out the need to review why Rahul’s victory margin had fallen, Priyanka said she would return after a week to take up the matter.

According to some leaders who attended the meeting, Rahul told them the party would very soon “organise the review meeting”.

At the party office in Amethi, Rahul and Priyanka garlanded a photograph of their father Rajiv Gandhi on his death anniversary.