Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday asked the people of Maharashtra to keep the Opposition parties away from power till they came up with convincing programmes to solve the problems of the rural poor.

Addressing a rally here as part of his two-day election tour of the State, Mr. Gandhi said the leaders of the Opposition parties were shy about speaking for the poor.

“Keep them away from power till they dare to speak about the problems of the poor and bring forth convincing programmes to solve them,” he said, adding that the Congress’ top priority was to solve the problems of the poor and ensure their development.

The Opposition was keen on raising issues of terrorism and cross-border infiltration, but was shy of talking about the poor and poverty, Mr. Gandhi said, adding that the youth should shoulder the responsibility of building a strong and dynamic India.

“I often undertake tours to villages and listen to the problems faced by villagers. The Opposition often laughs at me by asking why I go to the villages. To them, I want to say, I find India’s future in the villages, and without their empowerment, the country can’t grow as a global power,” he said.

Mr. Gandhi appealed to the gathering to vote for the Congress-NCP alliance to ensure a stable government in Maharashtra, and later spoke to farmers’ widows about their wellbeing.

The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s ‘India Shining’ slogan was rightly rejected by voters in 2004 as it ignored large swathes inhabited by the rural poor, Mr. Gandhi said, accusing the Opposition of indulging in divisive politics.

“India was shining only in urban parts and that too within the elite class. The poor and the common man were totally ignored by the NDA government,” he said. “The Congress is a party of the poor and the common man and believes in making them economically stronger to make India prosperous,” Mr. Gandhi said, while addressing an election rally in Vidarbha, a report from Chandrapur said.

The Opposition parties ignored issues related to the poor and harped on the terrorism issue even in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections.