As the Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi wound up his 26-day ‘Kisan Yatra’ across Uttar Pradesh and returned to the national capital, the question is whether his marathon 3,438-km journey brought the party any closer to power in UP or at the Centre.
While party leaders claim that the crown prince is able to strike rapport with the voters where the Congress is in political exile now for 27 long years, rival political parties tend to dismiss the extravaganza as a mere publicity hunt and photo opportunity. “No amount of Modi bashing and photo opportunity will help a party that misruled UP and India for decades,” union Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
In the end, many Congress supporters, who gathered at Raj Ghat and Jantar Mantar where Rahul was to end his long journey, remained confused and gave divided opinion.
“Not too many feel that voters in the politically crucial UP are confident or excited enough to commit their vote to the Congress just yet,” says political observer Shivesh Kumar Garg. Apparently, local Congress leaders are being blamed for a few episodes of fiasco.
The responsibility for ‘Khat Chaupal’ meets in Kanpur region was given to Rahul’s trusted aide Rajaram Pal, former MP. But perhaps intra-party squabble led to the debacle in this exercise which was later understood as the handiwork of a section of party insiders who were not comfortable with Pal, who had won Lok Sabha election in 2009.
Moreover, given UP’s caste and religious sensitivity, Rahul Gandhi perhaps only added to the confusion by trying to reach out to various sections – at one go – and often giving mixed signals. More than once, for a change, Rahul played soft-Hindutva card and visited Ayodhya, offered puja at Hanuman temple and even spotted ‘tika’ on his forehead and posed for videography and photographs chanting mantras.
He also participated in ceremonies conducted by local Brahman Samaj – eyeing this sizeable section of Hindu upper caste voters – who generally also influence the voting pattern of smaller castes in some crucial pockets. Similarly, at other places, he garlanded Ambedkar statues – trying to reach out to Dalits- who have been generally stuck to Mayawati-led BSP and also sat for chat or a cup of tea with Muslims.
“Overall, it’s a tough going for the Congress and Rahul Gandhi in Uttar Pradesh despite this last minute attempt to reach out to the voters on the eve of polls. The Kisan yatra was a yatra guided by desperation,” says Shailendra Kumar of the Samajwadi Party. He says Rahul’s meetings and interactions did not evoke much enthusiasm in key political hubs like Kanpur and Deoria as despite drawing crowd – there was apparently not much change in ground reality. “The Congress remains a divided house in many places. The party base has hardly expanded despite machinations of poll manager Prashant Kishore,” he says.
The absence of public enthusiasm showed there was no media publicity. Rahul got publicity only when he spoke against Prime Minister Narendra Modi, say others.
The general complaint among those who attended Rahul’s street side meetings has been that though Congress had touted the show as ‘Deoria To Dilli Kisan Mahapadyatra’, Rahul generally focused on Modi bashing — at times dwelling on issues which hardly bothered the local supporters. From farmers’ interest also, Rahul did not have anything new to offer and thus readily focused on waiver to farmers’ loans, reduce electricity tariffs by half, and increase in the minimum support price.
In fact, even from Congress insiders, there have been adverse reports from hubs like Jaunpur, where voters did not find anything to cheer about Rahul’s comments on Modi’s foreign visits, black money, and expensive suits.
Congress insiders say even Prashant Kishore was displeased and surprised at the poor turnout of farmers at Kanpur rural meet where the original target was about 50,000 including an overwhelming number of farmers. On the contrary, only a thin crowd of 700 farmers had gathered. This despite local district leaders and ticket aspirants sending written forms of primary members.
However, Congress leaders claim both the BJP and Samajwadi Party are unnerved by the responses evoked by Rahul Gandhi. “BJP and Samajwadi Party are nervous today and trying to rework their poll strategies,” Congress leader RPN Singh told Narada News.
He said the ‘focus on farmers’ and poorer sections have gone down well as it talks about what Rahul Gandhi stands for. “In sharp contrast to Narendra Modi’s pro-rich governance model and casteist model of Akhilesh Yadav, Rahul Gandhi clearly stood for Congress ideology and people seemed to embrace this,” he said.
Raj Babbar said: “We have maintained a continued approach. Rahul Gandhi’s Kisan Yatra and public meetings should be seen as continuity of UPA government’s works from 2004 to 2014 on a farm loan waiver, enactment of the food security Bill, success of NREGA that guaranteed rural employment and increases in the minimum support price to help farmers.
“We stand in a win-win situation,” said Congress leader Manish Tewari. Only time can answer whether Rahul Gandhi would continue to carry the tag of immature politician or ensure derisive comments like “Pappu pass ho gaya” when the outcome of the next UP elections is out.