The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Ram sermon for BJP, bahu barb for Sena

Lucknow, Nov. 9: Getting ready for a bigger role, Rahul Gandhi today gave the BJP a sermon on Ram and told Bal Thackeray to stop worrying about finding him a bride.

The first-time MP reached Amethi last night from Maharashtra on a four-day trip. Reluctant so far to talk on any issue not related to his constituency, Rahul appeared to have shaken off the nervousness of a trainee politician as he took on the BJP over Ayodhya.

'The BJP will end up hugely benefiting the Congress if it continues to play up the temple issue,' he said. 'Ramji sent out a clear message to the BJP in the last elections. If it continues to harp on the temple issue, the Congress will benefit.'

The MP added: 'The underlying message is the danger of using fundamentalism as a political stand. I hate fundamentalism and I hate the party that exploits this sentiment for political purpose.'

He did not spare Thackeray who had recently joked in public that he would look for a 'Hindustani bride' for the Congress MP. Rahul has a Venezuelan girlfriend of Spanish origin. Reminded of the Shiv Sena chief's remark, Rahul laughed. Asked if he would meet the woman if Thackeray lives up to his words, he said: 'Oh no. I have a sincere girlfriend and I don't want to hurt her.'

Then he made his own suggestion to Thackeray: 'Please do something for Maharashtra instead of looking for a bride for me.'

Rahul also offered to work outside his constituency. 'I think I am a sincere Congress worker and I will be ready from now to campaign for the party anywhere outside Amethi, whenever I am needed by the new Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Salman Khursheed,' he said.

'I never wanted to start off my political career as a national leader. That is why I did not join campaign during the Maharashtra polls. I will campaign in Haryana and Jharkhand if the situation calls for it.'

Rahul said Khursheed 'is an able man' but insisted he 'had no role to play' in the appointment. Khursheed was named the state unit chief last week in an attempt to put the party back on track and get a firmer grip on the state's minority votes. The dismal performance in the last bypoll is believed to have forced the ouster of Jagadambika Pal as state unit chief.

Echoing his mother Sonia Gandhi, Rahul alleged that the Samajwadi Party-led state government was discriminating against Amethi and Rae Bareli. The Congress chief had alleged last month that the government was involved in narrow politics and discriminating against her constituency.

Rahul said several industrialists had shown keen interest in investing in the state but were not stepping in because of the acute power shortage. 'Uttar Pradesh lags behind other states in many areas. The whole state is embroiled in the politics of religion and caste.'

Refusing to accept chief minister Mulayam Singh Yadav's claim that it was the Samajwadi Party, not the Congress, that defeated the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, he said: 'The Congress almost decimated the BJP in the whole of the country, including Uttar Pradesh.'

On the first day of his trip, Rahul visited a family that lost five members in an explosion at Gauriganj, attended an iftar and monitored development work.

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