Rahul Gandhi's Kisan rally in UP has created a buzz, khaat or no khaat
- Rahul Gandhi began his 2500 km Deoria to Delhi march focussing on farmers
- In the first "khaat" rally, people had a scuffle in trying to take away the cots
- The khaat rally is the idea of Congress strategist Prashant Kishor
- The idea is to make Rahul Gandhi accessible to the public
- What impact did the rally have?
- Will Kishor\'s strategy work?
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi kick-started his 2,500 km Deoria to Delhi kisan yatra with a "khaat (charpoy) sabha in Deoria's Rudrapur village on Tuesday. The rally bore the stamp of poll strategist Prashant Kishore.
The very idea of Rahul's direct interaction with villagers sitting on charpoys was different from the usual political rallies one gets to see in the run-up to elections. It helped strike a rapport between the speaker and the audience so what if the sight of people running away with charpoys gave the Opposition to a point to attack the Congress.
It helped catch eyeballs from the beginning till the end when people decamped with about 2000 khatiyas (charpoys), with some even fighting over them, for their personal use.
Kishor, whose poll strategies had done wonders for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Janata Dal (United) in the 2015 Bihar polls, was hired by the Congress to help change its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh.
His aim is to make Congress win around 100 of the 403 seats so that in the resultant fractured mandate, the party could play a key role in government formation.
The campaign budget for the master strategist is an estimated Rs 400 crore and a 500 strong team is working from him from the entire floor of an office complex on Lucknow's Jopling road.
Kishor's revival plan for the Congress includes bringing in Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to helm the party's campaign in the state and to project a Brahmin leader as chief minister candidate. While it is still not clear whether Priyanka would be heading the poll campaign, Sheila Dikshit has been named as CM candidate to avoid confrontation between other Brahmin leaders in the party.
His other effort has been to take all the factions within UP Congress along. Appointment of Raj Babbar was part of that strategy as having any other leader as the party's state unit president would have offended one faction or the other.
Making Rahul Gandhi acceptable to the people and chalking out his outreach programmes, said a UP Congressman on anonymity, is also his mandate. Hence the kisan yatra during which he will collect "kisan maangpatra" - a demand charter of farmers - which would be communicated to the prime minister.
In a tweet, Rahul Gandhi's office said, "My yatra from Deoria to Delhi starting 6 September is a campaign to secure the rights of the poor, farmers and labourers in the government's resources."
Besides the Rudrapur rally, on Day 1 of his march, he met farmers in the Panchlari Kritpura village and took their charter of demands.
A Congress leader described the chaos at the Rudrapur rally as incidental. "More than the expected number of people had gathered for the panchayat, which was a good sign. At the end of it if people decided to carry the cots is a different issue. That they listened to Rahul Gandhi with rapt attention was more important," he said. Whoever planned the khaat rally has been successful in his objective.
That the khaat pe charcha was patently Prashant Kishor's idea can be said because his team had visited Deoria in August to prepare for the rally, which is the first serious outreach programme of the party.
Congress media in charge Satyadeo Tripathi was grudging in giving credit to Prashant Kishore. "Aap log strategist ko zyada mahatv de rahe hain" (you give too much importance to the strategist). The entire credit for the show should go to Rahul Gandhi for approving and implementing it, he said.
During the campaign for the 2012 Assembly elections, Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party had been short of ideas and Gandhi family scion had indulged in theatrics like rolling up his kurta sleeves and tearing up the Samajwadi Party manifesto. It backfired. There was hardly an instance of a serious attempt at striking a chord with the audience in 2012.
Attacking the Central and the SP governments, Rahul said, "There were 17 sugar mills in this district but all are shut. Who is responsible? Both the NDA and the SP governments have forgotten the farmers."
Accompanied by senior party leader Ghulam Nabi Azad and MLA Akhilesh Pratap Singh, the 46-year-old Congress vice-president promised to slash power tariff for farmers by half, besides waiving their loans, if the Congress came to power in Uttar Pradesh.
The party had earlier launched its 2017 election campaign with a massive rally of workers at the Ramabai rally grounds in Lucknow on 31 July. About 50,000 party workers and office-bearers took part in the rally in which Rahul Gandhi also fielded questions from his partymen.
The aim of the rally was to collect grassroots level feedback on the party's oragnisational strengths and weaknesses.
Even at this rally, it was a different Rahul Gandhi and it was described as hugely successful.
Clearly, Prashant Kishor is also striving to give Rahul Gandhi's image a makeover. Needless to say that if the Gandhi scion sticks to the master strategist's script, his party may spring a Bihar-like surprise.
According to reports, Rahul Gandhi performed pooja at the Dugdheshwar temple near Rudrapur after the inaugural meeting. This was followed by a lunch, after which he moved ahead to his next 'khaat sabha.'
From Deoria the Congress leader headed to Kushinagar for another khaat rally. So far there is no indication of the strategy being changed, implying that the planners would not mind a repeat of scramble for charpoys at Rudrapur
"Rahul Gandhi's meeting undoubtedly attracted a good crowd. But it had more to do with the image of the local Congress MLA Akhilesh Pratap Singh than the popularity of the Congress or its Vice-President. The village women were enthusiastic about catching a glimpse of the Gandhi scion while for the local youth the occasion was more like a festival," says Rahul, a local student.
Apparently, the Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi wanted farmers to speak more than his leaders. As a result, chosen farmer representatives were pushed to the fore, who knew what they had to say to him.
Catch spoke to the locals after the meeting was over. When asked how Deoria is going to benefit from Rahul Gandhi's yatra, a local teacher Pramod Kumar Yadav replied, "The Congress has raised hopes that farmer loans would be waived off and their electricity bills would be reduced by half. It seems the Congress is not aware that the power supply is itself a luxury in this area. The farmers were under heavy debt even during the Congress regime."
"Unfortunately, the Congress has no prominent leader left in the Poorvanchal region. Not only Deoria but the entire state would develop if Congress is able to keep its promises," surmises Vijay Kaushik, another local.
The Rahul Gandhi show has more than 2,500 km long distance to cover in order to win the 100 odd seats targeted by Prashant Kishor.
Visual advantage apart, Prashant Kishor must also be aware of what the party is promising to the electorate. Halving the electricity charges, as Rahul Gandhi promised on Tuesday, may sound too alluring to the voters but its implementation may not be easy. The financial health of the state electricity board is not too great to warrant that.
With inputs by Avesh Tiwari