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Thursday , May 12 , 2011
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Rivals rush late after Rahul rides in
Amar chases on bike, Rajnath lines up a fast

New Delhi, May 11: Rahul Gandhi rode in on a mobike. It prompted Rajnath Singh to declare he would go hungry. And Amar Singh to hop on to a bike too.

Mystified? Here’s the connection.

The Congress leader’s dawn swoop on Uttar Pradesh’s newest political hot-spot, Bhatta Parsaul, has sent his adversaries into a spin.

Hours after the news hit headlines, former BJP president Rajnath Singh announced that he would sit on a 24-hour fast in Ghaziabad, his Lok Sabha constituency, to demand the passage of the amended land acquisition bill. Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Sharad Yadav would join him.

Rajnath, who has marketed himself as his party’s “kisan neta” (farmers’ leader), insisted that the Centre should immediately convene a special session of Parliament to pass the bill. “Until that happens, not an inch of land should be acquired by the government in Uttar Pradesh,” he said.

The assertion came four days after a clash over land acquisition in the village, 6km from Greater Noida, led to the death of two policemen and two farmers.

(From top) Rahul Gandhi arrives in Bhatta Parsaul village; the MP speaks to villagers; women watch Rahul’s dharna. Pictures by Prem Singh and PTI

Amar, who used to be Mulayam Singh Yadav’s closest confidant and now heads an independent outfit called the All India Lok Manch, tried unsuccessfully to catch up with Rahul.

The young Gandhi snubbed him by disappearing from the scene of his “dharna” when Amar reached there on a motorbike. An aide claimed he had set off on an SUV.

After the police stopped the vehicle at the entry point, he tried to hitch a ride with some journalists but couldn’t. Amar then rode pillion on a bike driven by a Lok Manch worker and sped to Bhatta Parsaul, hoping to join Rahul’s sit-in.

Sources said when Rahul heard of Amar’s arrival, he left to have a wash.

Not known to despair even after such hints, Amar’s aide said his leader would try his luck with Rahul again tomorrow morning and be “part of the historic agitation”.

Out on a limb after quitting the Samajwadi Party, Amar has lately tried to reach out to the Congress through fellow Thakur Digvijay Singh, hoping the caste bonding would click into a more substantive political relationship before the Uttar Pradesh polls.

Last month, he and Digvijay had shared a “non-political” platform in Farukkhabad, which is central minister Salman Khurshid’s parliamentary constituency. Khurshid, too, was there.

While a Congress association could be Amar’s lifeline to a political revival, party sources in Uttar Pradesh said he could be “useful” in devising strategies to counter Mulayam, who is expected to be in direct competition with them to harvest Muslim votes.

Yesterday, Rajnath was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police before he tried to set foot in Greater Noida. Apparently outmanouevred by Rahul’s strategist Digvijay, whose idea it was to steal inside the cordon sanitaire under cover of darkness, the BJP chief tried to make the best of a job gone bad. “I appeal to Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister to stop Rahul from doing a nautanki (drama) in a sensitive state. They should recall him,” he said.

Rajnath questioned the Centre’s inability to bring in the acquisition bill for discussion and passage and asked why the Prime Minister was “sitting” over it for months.

“The Congress owes an explanation to the people of Uttar Pradesh,” he said and accused the ruling Bahujan Samaj Party of “hobnobbing” with the Congress.

“The dharna confirms that the BSP and the Congress are working together, we saw the mutual co-operation in the PAC (Public Accounts Committee) meetings,” he said.

The BJP’s pique at Rahul’s show-stealer arose from its assessment that it stood a good chance to gain politically on the land acquisition issue in western Uttar Pradesh. The Samajwadi Party is practically non-existent in this part while the Congress has a long way to go before a recovery.

The western districts were the BJP’s strongholds since the nineties.

Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal is the only other party that has an entrenched presence. But since the stakeholders in the acquisition agitation are largely Hindu and Muslim Jats, observers believe that in an election, the RLD might be the chief beneficiary of their anger against the Mayavati government.

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