The fiasco at Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s first ‘khat sabha’ in Uttar Pradesh where villagers attending the rally took away stringed cots may have raised questions about his party’s strategy for the 2017 assembly elections.
But the embarrassment caused by the incident on Tuesday may only be short lived, as Gandhi’s 2,500 km-long ‘Deoria to Delhi Kisan Yatra’, during which he will cover 233 assembly constituencies, is evoking a good response and would bring into focus the issues that he has fought for over the years.
“It’s a very good beginning. I expect success at the end. The issues concerning loan waiver etc would definitely have an impact,” Professor Manuka Khanna of Lucknow University said.
In Rudrapur assembly segment of Deoria, Gandhi promised to waive off farmers’ loan and cut power tariff by 50% if his party formed a government in UP.
“Rahul Gandhi is a senior leader. He has been raising the issues concerning farmers. We have an old loan to pay and we are sure that Rahul will keep his promise of fighting for loan waiver,” Pappu Nath Singh, a farmer in Rudrapur, said.
The Congress appears to have already taken steps to ensure that such incidents are not repeated at any of the ‘khat sabhas’ to be organised in the coming days. In Kushinagar, where Gandhi went soon after his Deoria meet, things were normal. Party leaders assert that workers of different parties have been taking away banners and flags after political rallies. The move to take away the ‘khats’ must be viewed only in the backdrop of such a political scenario.
However, a blame game has begun after the ‘khat loot’ with some senior party leaders, including party MLA from Rudrapur Akhilesh Pratap Singh, accusing a section of media of the loot. While Singh said he had pictures to prove that some media persons provoked farmers to take away the ‘khats’, others are shifting the blame on party strategist Prashant Kishor saying he should have known and taken care while suggesting ‘khat sabha’ during Gandhi’s show.
Despite the initial embarrassment, the Congress is also hopeful that the yatra would send good signals about the party’s fight for the cause of farmers. Gandhi himself spoke about it and how his party with only 40 MPs forced the Narendra Modi government against making any changes in the land acquisition law that were amended at his behest during the UPA regime.
The Congress also proposes to get signatures of nearly two crore farmers on ‘Mang Patras’ or charter of demands that the Congress workers are distributing to them listing their demands that include loan waiver, reduction in power tariff and higher support price for their produce.
As Gandhi embarked upon his yatra on Tuesday, he also went door to door get signatures of some farmers on the Mang Patras. The Congress has deployed 250 Mang Raths to distribute such blank charters and get the farmers’ signatures. Farmers are being given a counterfoil of the Mang Patra as a receipt and an assurance that the Congress would fulfil their demands if voted to power in the state.
After projecting Sheila Dikshit, a Brahmin, as chief ministerial candidate, the party was in a dilemma over focusing on caste issues. An emphasis on issues concerning farmers would ensure the party’s acceptability among all the sections.
But, it’s only a beginning and the party’s strategy of keeping the focus on these would be under test again in the coming days.