Rahul who? Challenge on home turf

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  • Published 16.02.08

Lucknow, Feb. 16: A meeting chaired by Rahul Gandhi on the UPA’s showpiece National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Amethi had to be called off abruptly after a fellow MP questioned the presiding authority of the Gandhi scion.

This is the first time since the transformation of Amethi into a Gandhi bastion in the seventies that the authority of a family member — that too the sitting MP — has been challenged so brazenly.

Rahul had convened the meeting to find ways of better implementation of the scheme in Amethi, which falls under Sultanpur district. Rahul has been worried about the slow progress in the state, more so because of BSP chief Mayavati’s open criticism of the Centre-funded project.

Sultanpur district has 12 Assembly segments, of which five make up the Amethi parliamentary constituency. The remaining seven constitute the Sultanpur Lok Sabha seat, which is with the BSP’s Tahir Khan, an accused in a human trafficking case.

The junior Gandhi had invited state officials and MLAs to the meet and had as special guest K. Raju, the Andhra Pradesh chief secretary, who was to make a presentation. The southern state is among the most successful in implementing the scheme and Raju is regarded as the spearhead of the campaign.

The meeting, being held in the conference hall of a hospital named after Rahul’s uncle Sanjay Gandhi — who is regarded as having turned Amethi into a family pocket-borough — began at 10.30am and continued without a hitch for around 90 minutes.

Around noon, when Raju was about to begin his presentation, Khan barged in with party MLAs and other supporters. The BSP leader asked Rahul to explain what authority he had to chair a meeting as it pertained to the entire district.

Khan argued that as his Lok Sabha constituency had more Assembly segments, he, and not Rahul, represented the region.

“Being an MP from Sultanpur district, I should have been heading the committee. Who is Rahul? I cannot be part of a monitoring committee of which Rahul Gandhi is the chairman,” Khan said.

Rahul sat in silence as he watched verbal volleys between the BSP and the Congress.

After half an hour, Khan and his supporters, including Vinod Singh, a state minister, and MLAs .P. Singh, Bhagelu Ram and Chandra Pal Mishra, walked out.

Realising that the meeting would have little relevance if all the legislators were not present, Rahul asked for the curtains to be brought down.

He immediately set out for Dallapur, a Dalit village in his constituency, which was damaged in an accidental fire last year.

Rahul, worried by the phenomenal growth of the BSP, has been aggressively wooing the Dalits, Mayavati’s core support base. He even slept in the hut of a Dalit family on Republic Day and wants the backward people to benefit from the scheme.

“The BSP does not want to implement the project. It has a strong political motive not to do so,” Congress spokesperson Akhilesh P. Singh said.

Mayavati has dismissed the scheme as an “insult” to the poor.

“By giving a job for only 100 days in a year, the Centre has betrayed its feudal mindset. When I come to power at the Centre, I will give permanent jobs to the poor,” she said at a recent rally.