The Congress had to fall back on its vice-president Rahul Gandhi to rescue its mega rally at the MMRDA grounds in Bandra Kurla Complex here, after the original star campaigners for the rally — Congress president Sonia Gandhi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar — skipped the event.
While the Congress cited health reasons for cancellation of Sonia’s visit to Maharashtra, Pawar’s absence raised eyebrows in political circles.
The official announcement regarding Pawar’s not making it to the rally was made by NCP leader and Maharashtra’s Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil only after the leaders took to the stage. “Pawar could not make it since his helicopter had not received landing permission in Mumbai,” Patil announced. He also apologised for absence of other senior leaders’ at the rally.
Pawar, who has so far not acknowledged Rahul as a leader of the United Progressive Alliance, is yet to share stage with the Nehru-Gandhi scion. Roped in at the last minute, Rahul arrived at the venue two hours behind schedule. “The Congress president asked me to address the event in her place and I happily accepted,” Rahul told the crowd.
Addressing an audience of over a lakh people, Rahul appealed to the cosmopolitan character of the city saying that the Congress line of thought is in the DNA of the city. “This city believes in brotherhood where people love and respect each other and progress together making it the most productive city of the country. That is why the Congress was born here,” he said.
He said the “Opposition believes in dividing the society on religious and communal lines”. He reiterated the charge that the BJP’s politics was centred around benefiting a coterie of few businessmen, whereas the Congress believed in taking the poor along in the development.
“This is a city of dreams. We want the poor and the tribals to retain these dreams something that the BJP does not subscribe too,” Rahul said.
He also tried to strike an emotive chord with the migrant voting population in Mumbai. “I interacted with 300 rickshawwallahs in Uttar Pradesh, none of whom wanted their children to become autowallahs. I also travelled from Gorakhpur to Mumbai in a train, where I also spoke to coolies. We would like to see their children work in corporate offices,” he said, pointing at one such office situated near the venue.
He did not miss out the sons of the soil card either referring to his recent meeting with fisherfolk in Mumbai’s Versova. He also had an eye on the slum voter, when he heralded the Maharashtra government’s move to extend slum cut off deadline and recognise transfer of legal slums.
Rahul also took on Modi for suggesting that the Congress had done nothing for people in 60 years.”In the last ten years alone, the UPA has brought 15 crore people out of poverty. But the Opposition cannot appreciate this as they do not cater to the poor. When Modi came here, all he announced was that he would set up an acting university in Mumbai,” he said. The rally ended with Rahul doing a round around the stage with the UPA’s six candidates from Mumbai.