WITH A dash of soft Hindutva and a dose of populism, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi Tuesday began his campaign to woo the voters of Uttar Pradesh, who have spurned his party for 27 years, from where his mother and party chief Sonia Gandhi had left off — a visit to a well-known temple.
Sonia had planned to visit the Kashi Vishwanath temple during her roadshow in Varanasi last month but fell ill midway. On the opening day of his yatra, Rahul visited the Dugdeswar Nath temple here and addressed a khaat sabha at its premises.
It was then that he began his 2,500-km four-week yatra from eastern Uttar Pradesh, with an eye on the assembly elections next year. Starting from Deoria, next to Gorakhpur, the hometown and bastion of the BJP’s aggressive Hindutva face and possible chief ministerial candidate Yogi Adityanath.
Rahul will next hold roadshows and khaat sabhas in Gorakhpur, with signboards of Adityanath’s Hindu Yuva Vahini on the roadside at many places on the way. The yatra will then pass through Faizabad although it remains to be seen whether he will visit the makeshift Ram temple in Ayodhya.
The Congress had been grappling with its approach towards Hindus, particularly after the Lok Sabha defeat, with many arguing that it should not be seen as shying away from embracing Hindu symbols or visiting temples. Rahul earlier visited the Banke Bihari temple in Vrindavan, and trekked to the Kedarnath shrine last year.
WATCH VIDEO: Rahul Gandhi Kicks Off Kisan Yatra
However, party insiders said that this soft Hindutva line is not the only reason for the yatra to start from eastern Uttar Pradesh. And that’s where the politics of populism comes in.
The region is hit by an agrarian crisis, and Rahul, addressing a khaat sabha, launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of writing off the loans of big industrialists and ignoring farmers who are deep in debt.
He also met six families of debt-ridden farmers during a visit to Pachaldi Kritpura village. Giving a personal touch to the initiative, Rahul sat with the farmers in their houses, asked about their problems and said that their debts should be written off.
“Modiji came to power, he spoke a lot about farmers. He said he will protect the farmers. that India’s government will be of the farmers. But what is sad is that since his government came to power, farmers have been forgotten, not just in Uttar Pradesh but across the country,” he said later, while addressing a khaat sabha in Rudrapur. Interestingly, while he targeted Modi at the khaat sabhas, Rahul avoided attacking the BSP or the SP government in the state. Also, he did not take the name of Sheila Dikshit, the party’s chief ministerial face even once.
“Farmers don’t get anything in return for what they invest. Their debts should be written off. Our government had waived off debts of farmers worth Rs 70,000 crore. What is happening now? Last year, the Modi government waived off thousands of crores of rupees of debts of big industrialists,” he claimed.