Rahul, not party, sells in UP

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By J.P. YADAV
  • Published 20.02.12
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Rahul Gandhi at a Kanpur rally on Sunday. (PTI)

Rama Bai Nagar (central Uttar Pradesh), Feb. 19: In Rama Bai Nagar, on the Kanpur-Etawah road, Rahul Gandhi introduced technocrat Sam Pitroda as a “badhaiee” (carpenter) at a packed rally, marking the Congress scion’s open intention of dabbling in caste politics.

“Do you know who Sam Pitroda is?” Rahul had asked at a rally in December.

When the crowd failed to identify him, Rahul said Pitroda, with his father Rajiv Gandhi, had ushered the cellphone revolution in India and how that had benefited the poor.

He didn’t stop there. “Badhaiee hain woh... Vishwakarma.… Aap duniya badal sakte ho. Pichhde ho kyonki aako darkinar kiya gaya (he is a badhaiee… Vishwakarma (another name for the caste). You can change the world but have been ignored and so you are backward),” Rahul had said.

Although the Gandhi scion drew criticism for bringing up the caste of a person of Pitroda’s stature, the technocrat later declared he was proud to be a carpenter’s son.

Rahul’s month-long mass-contact programme ahead of the notification for the Uttar Pradesh polls had culminated in the rally here where he had showcased Pitroda as a mascot for the most backward castes.

Backward castes in Salawatpur village, less than a kilometre from the Rama Bai Nagar rally ground, fondly remember Rahul but do not show any intention of voting for Congress candidate Mathura Pal in Akbarpur constituency.

“Rahul Gandhi lagte achchhe hain.. lekin unka candidate thik nahi.… BSP mein tha ab Congress me aaya hai. Woh hamara koi kaam nahi karta hai (Rahul Gandhi appears to be good but his candidate is not so…. He was in the BSP and is now in the Congress. He does not do our work),” said Balwant Kushwaha, 40.

As the interaction proceeded, Tulsi Ram Kushwaha, an elderly man, pitched in. “Ladke ka niyat achchha lagta hai. Hum usko Prime Minister banane ke liye vote denge (the lad’s intention looks good. We will vote to make him the Prime Minister).”

Although Rahul’s tireless campaign to hoist the Congress flag in Uttar Pradesh does not appear to hold much promise for the Assembly polls, the prospects looks bright for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when he is widely tipped to be projected as the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

In the last Lok Sabha polls, the Congress, seen as moribund in the state, had stunned all by winning 22 seats.

Analysts said the plan to use Pitroda’s caste identity was a deliberate attempt by Rahul to strike a chord among the backward castes, which had taken shelter behind regional outfits. The party has also fielded a large number of backward candidates.

The response from Kushwahas in Salawatpur — a section the BJP too has tried to woo by inducting BSP discard Babu Singh Kushwaha — shows Rahul has succeeded in his plan but would have to press on with his efforts to reap the fruits.

Harijano ka Mayawati hai, Yadavon ka Mulayam (Singh Yadav). Hamara to koi party nahi hai. Rahul humey izzat denge to hum Congress ko aage vote denge (Scheduled Castes have Mayawati, Yadavs Mulayam. We (Kushwahas) do not have anybody. If Rahul gives respect to us, we can vote for the Congress),” said Santosh Kushwaha, who is preparing to sit for a bank probationary officers’ exam and become “big” like Pitroda.

The Congress’s emphasis on backwards and Muslims, however, is making the Brahmins— its traditional vote bank that shifted to Mayawati in the last elections and now stands disenchanted — apprehensive and they are leaning towards the BJP. “Rahul Gandhi is striking a chord by talking about lack of development under Maya-Mulayam but his party leaders are only talking about reservation,” said Dhananjay Tiwari of Muraiya in Kannauj.

While turncoats being given tickets is turning away voters in Akbarpur, it is attracting them in Bidhuna in Mulayam’s den Etawah. Here the Congress has fielded Vinod Yadav alias “Kakka”, a former Mulayam acolyte.

On Saturday, Rahul’s two public meetings in Etawah saw good crowds, alarming the Mulayam camp. The Congress has fielded several former Samajwadi leaders here.

“Mulayam was thrice chief minister of UP. What has he given you? Has he given you bijli, sadak, paani and employment?” Rahul said at one rally, drawing applause.

But again, Congress leaders fear these candidates might desert them for power. “They can easily defect and join Mulayam again, leaving the party high and dry,” said a leader.

Voters have shown a sense of disillusionment with Mayawati and Mulayam but are stepping back under the realisation that the national parties lack the strength to form a government.