| A woman hugs Rahul Gandhi as a boy holds his hand at a village near Amethi on Monday. (AFP)
Amethi, March 29: Rahul Gandhi arrived in Amethi on his first campaign trip today to declare he was his “father’s son” and would complete “his unfinished task”.
“I too am young and I have a dream — one of a highly developed Hindustan,” Rahul — in white kurta pyjama and angochha, like his father — told villagers as he swept through the dusty hamlets, past mango trees and wheat fields.
If the words sounded like an echo of Rajiv Gandhi’s I am young and I too have a dream, the son was not apologetic. “My father is my hero and I am here to complete his unfinished task.”
Rahul arrived at 10.30 am on a two-day tour of the constituency and drove 120 km through Jagdishpur along Sultanpur Road, Jamo Road, Gauriganj and Munshiganj.
People lined up on the roads to greet the latest member of the family to contest from Amethi. Drums and bands played on, crackers were burst and supporters showered rose petals and marigold garlands on the heir-apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. From trees hung cloth banners that said “Atut rahega yeh bandhan, Rahul Gandhi ka abhinandan” and welcomed the “Yuva Hriday Samrat”.
Seventy-six-year-old Shanta Prasad, head shaking and walking stick held firmly in frail hands, stood in front of a brick house at Jagdishpur market when Rahul’s long convoy, escorted by 100-odd motorcycles, arrived in the semi-rural industrial suburb at 11.30 am.
Enthusiastic youngsters waved Congress flags and shouted slogans like “Gaon Gaon mein aandhi hai, kewal Rahul Gandhi hai.” Rahul stepped out of his vehicle and walked briskly up the dusty path to Prasad.
Touching the hands holding the oiled stick, he asked: “Aap mujhe pahchante hain' (Do you know me')” The man looked at him for a few quick seconds, searching perhaps for Rajiv Gandhi’s likeness in the smiling face before him. His eyes moistened and a sad look clouded them as he said: “Who doesn’t know you, my son' You used to play here as a child when your father would tell us about politics.”
Rahul’s eyes glistened and he glanced away. He touched two children playing nearby, bid namaste to everyone and trudged back to his vehicle. “Please don’t ask me anything now,” he begged.
The 33-year-old, who has so far been happy to let Priyanka engage the crowds and the media, initially appeared diffident although he would not admit it. “I am not nervous for politics comes naturally to me,” he protested. But after the first few hours, the latest Nehru-Gandhi in politics had taken to canvassing like a duck to water.
Encouraged perhaps by the huge turnout that included Hindus and Muslims, upper castes and backwards, Rahul stopped more often to chat with people and had tea sitting on the mud floor of ramshackle stalls. When he needed privacy — as when he was calling his mother in Jamo — he stepped into the fields.
At 2.30 pm, he had his meal under a tree near Gogmau village near Jamo.
Beginning at Chilauti Primary School, whose foundation stone had been laid by Rajiv Gandhi, Rahul’s six-hour journey ended at Munshiganj, about 130 km from Lucknow. As voters blessed him, they went down memory lane. “I have seen three generations of leaders from his family .He has imbibed the true values of his family. He is firm, bold and stern when under fire yet vulnerable,” gushed Kripa Shankar Dubey in Jamo.
Rahul said: “Like my father and my grandmother, I will perform my assigned job — which now is to contest polls from this constituency — even if I am attacked, criticised and vilified.”
“My father was the target of a false campaign by the Opposition. I used to ask him why he did not retaliate. He told me we should be doing what we think is right and not bother about these things. Therefore, I will follow the same path. But I am not to be bullied by the Opposition.”
Rahul said his first priority was to win from Amethi. “My family has associated with this place for 40 years and I hope we will be associated with it for the next 40 years.”
But at least some voters have bigger plans for him. “If we could have our way,” said farmer Anand Kishore Shukla, “Rahul would be Prime Minister”.