First, a last-minute scramble by senior Congress leaders to get “genuine farmers” to sit on khaats (cots) laid out on the mega stage for Rahul Gandhi’s first-ever Khaat Sabha. And then, a mad rush to take the cots home by those who came for the event.
The Congress vice president’s yatra to conquer the hearts and minds of the people of Uttar Pradesh started Tuesday on a painfully humorous and chaotic note.
As Rahul reached the Dudhnath Baba Mandir ground in Rudrapur — the second stop after a symbolic door-to-door reachout to farmers in Pachaldi Kritpura village near where his helicopter landed — the stage was set for the launch of the longest mass contact programme in his career.
Cots were laid out across the modest ground, which was full with around 4,000 people. But there was a hitch. There were not enough “genuine farmers” on the cots on the sides of the stage.
Rahul and AICC general secretary Ghulam Nabi Azad waited and engaged in an animated conversation even as aides scampered to get the farmers. Then Azad got off the stage while Rahul stood there watching as the district Congress committee chief, Rakesh Singh, walked in with a group of people.
Azad was heard admonishing Singh, saying those with him were not farmers. “Farmers are those whose houses we visited,” he was heard telling Singh, referring to the houses of six farmers — with heavy loan debts — whom Rahul had visited at Pachaldi Kritpura.
WATCH VIDEO: Rahul Gandhi Kicks Off Kisan Yatra
Soon, more “farmers” were rushed in, with aides jostling with police to bring them into the venue, before the event started. But then, as soon as the event got over, hundreds of people, many of them women, walked away with the specially prepared cots, while the policemen on duty looked on.
Congress sources said party strategist Prashant Kishor’s Indian Political Action Committee (IPAC) had ordered 4,000 cots from Lucknow for the programme. The idea was to place 1,500-2,000 cots, which can be easily dismantled, at one venue and rotate them later through different venues. At today’s Khaat Sabha — the first of the two Gandhi addressed — there were about 1,200 cots.
“What happened was nothing but theft. The policemen just looked on. They did not stop them,” an IPAC volunteer, who requested anonymity, told The Indian Express.
But those who took away the cots did not think so. “This is a gift from Rahulji. Congress has always done a lot for farmers,” said Saraswati, a member of the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Parijoyana.
Senior Congress leader R P N Singh sought to play down the confusion, saying that “some youngsters picking up the cots is not a big deal”.
“They were attracted by the colourful khaats. There is a novelty factor. They looked so nice and fresh. The important thing is the message Rahul Gandhi’s yatra and the Congress wants to send across. It is about the agrarian distress and the need for giving relief to farmers,” said Singh.
However, the party ensured that there was no repeat in the second Khaat Sabha of the day, in Khushi Nagar.
In contrast, Gandhi’s door-to-door campaign earlier, his first programme after his helicopter landed on a dusty field near Pachaldi Kritpur, a Congress pocket, was symbolic and well choreographed.
IPAC volunteers had identified the village at least a week ago, once it was decided that Gandhi would launch his “mahayatra” from Deoria, an agriculture-dominated district bordering Bihar, before proceeding west to Ghaziabad.
Doeria amply captures the agrarian distress in Uttar Pradesh, with 14 sugar mills, all of which have shut, and farmer suicides.
In Pachaldi Kritpur, which is part of Rudrapur assembly constituency held by Congress’s Akilesh Pratap Singh, 10 families were identified and told in advance about Gandhi’s visit and his campaign.
“We were told some days before. We are glad he is coming,” said Ramba Yadav, one of them. Asked which party she had voted for in the past, she said, “We have always voted for the Congress and most of the people in this village have voted for Akhileshji. We will vote for the Congress.”