Says UPA-III will elevate 70 crore Indians into the aspirational class

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has promised to elevate 70 crore Indians into the ranks of the middle class if the UPA government is voted back to power.

At an election meeting here on Sunday, an aggressive Mr. Gandhi targeted Narendra Modi, and said the record of the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate in selling land to industry in Gujarat did not inspire confidence in his leadership and claims to being a “chowkidar” (gatekeeper).

Mr. Gandhi, filling in for his mother Sonia Gandhi, who was taken ill, made his pitch to the aspiring Indian clear at the meeting at the Bandra Kurla Complex grounds, smack in the middle of tall glass-fronted buildings. “I want your children to sit in these offices,” he said pointing to the tall buildings all around. “I want your children to dream big, fly in airplanes and go to America.”

The large crowd seemed to lap up what he said, demanding more when Mr. Gandhi appeared to end his speech. Continuing with the populist rhetoric, Mr. Gandhi said till now only the rich in India had access to health care. “You will get free medicine and get operated without charge if we are voted back to power,” the Congress leader said. Also, he said every household would have a roof over its head.

Declaring that he wanted a partnership between Hindus and Muslims as well as the poor and the rich to run the country, Mr. Gandhi said, “I do not want two ‘Indias.’ We want one India of the poor and the rich.”

Taking head-on the question of what the UPA had done in the past 10 years, Mr. Gandhi reeled off a list of government programmes, arguing that it had pulled 15 crore Indians out of poverty. Referring to infrastructure creation in Mumbai, he said the city had got a monorail and now, as Delhi, it would be operationalising the Metro very soon.

Targeting Mr. Modi, he said “Mr. Modi came to Mumbai and said you did not know anything. In contrast, Mr. Gandhi claimed: “I come here, I respect you, I listen to you, I understand you.” The poor, he said, ran the city of Mumbai, something which he understood after speaking recently to the fishermen in the city under the hot sun.

Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar did not make it to the rally, which was a joint one with the Nationalist Congress Party, as he could not get a helicopter to reach the venue.

All top Congress leaders, including Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Union Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde were, however, present.