Campaigning for the November 7 by-election in the Firozabad parliamentary constituency of Uttar Pradesh gathered momentum, with Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi making a bid to reach out to the poor, the Dalits, the tribals, the labourers and the youth.

Mr. Gandhi said these were India's real strength and the ones who would take the country forward.Without taking names, he took a dig at the politicians who assailed him for visiting villages, meeting the poor and the Dalits and also sharing food with them. He was addressing an election rally at the P.D. Jain Inter College in Firozabad in support of Congress candidate Raj Babbar on Friday.

He lauded the contribution of the youth to the success of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, and added that the State had lagged behind in development in the last 20 years. Stating that much of the problem lay in the lack of communication between the politicians and the common man, Mr. Gandhi said he wanted to bridge this gap.Congress sources claimed that it was for the first time since 1978 that a member of the Gandhi family had campaigned for by-elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The former Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi, had addressed an election meeting in Azamgarh in 1978 in support of the former Congress chief and party candidate Mohsina Kidwai in the Lok Sabha by-poll. Much significance is being attached to Mr. Gandhi's election meeting in Firozabad, as it indicated the party's determination to wrest the seat from the Samajwadi Party (SP).

High stakes

With the Congress and the SP locked in a straight fight in Firozabad, the electoral stakes were predictably high for Mr. Babbar and Dimple Akhilesh, the daughter-in-law of SP supremo Mulayam Singh.

Mr. Singh's son and Ms. Dimple's husband Akhilesh Singh took out a cycle rally from Raja Ka Taal in Shikohabad Assembly segment to Firozabad on Friday. The by-election is being held due to Mr. Akhilesh Singh's resignation in May last this year. He had won from both Kannauj and Firozabad in the May Lok Sabha polls and retained the former.