My mother was in tears that she couldn't cast her vote on the food bill due to ill health, says the Congress vice president.

Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi addressed ‘Satta Parivartan Maharallies’ (Regime Change Mega Rallies) in Shahdol and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday. These were his first public meetings ahead of the Assembly polls scheduled to begin here next month.

At public meeting in Shahdol, a tribal-dominated district bordering Chhattisgarh, Mr. Gandhi cited a Unicef report to assert that malnutrition in MP was worse than Africa. “The Bharatiya Janata Party doesn’t understand that there can be no development when people are hungry. For years, they have opposed the food security bill; for years, we [the Congress] fought to bring it,” Mr. Gandhi said.

Seeking to play the emotion card, Mr. Gandhi maintained UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi was highly disappointed at missing the vote on the food bill due to an illness. “My mother refused to leave Parliament when the food bill was passed... I tried stopping her but she went inside Parliament after a medical check-up... I dragged her to a hospital... She was unable to breathe when she landed in the hospital and she had tears in her eyes. She said I fought for the bill and wanted to vote on it. [But] I couldn’t,” he said.

In Gwalior, the hometown of the campaign committee boss Jyotiraditya Scindia, Mr. Gandhi sought to focus on “disrespect” shown to the State to its poor people and cited the recent temple stampede at Ratangarh. “This [stampede incident] happened in 2006, in the same place [Ratangarh]. Where do such things happen? In MP. This means you did not respect the lives of the victims in 2006, neither do you respect those who died now,” he said.

Targeting the BJP and its poll plank of development and welfare, Mr. Gandhi said the party did not listen to people or attempt to understand the country: “We are not a country of roads, bridges and aircraft. We are a country of people and the poor. The BJP does not talk about the people who walk on the roads, or the families that go hungry or those who have to look for work everyday.”

‘Respect more important’

Targeting the BJP-ruled M.P. government, Mr. Gandhi said: “Is there anything more important than development? Yes, respect is more important than development. Without respect, there can be no development. This government does not respect people.”

The Congress vice-president drew loud cheers from almost 2.5 lakh supporters, which included a surprisingly large number of women. Claiming that the BJP was preventing the entry of youth into politics, Mr. Gandhi said: “If youth and women enter Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabhas and Panchayats; if clean people enter politics, they will clean politics. When youth enter politics, we won’t have to talk of development. Development will happen on its own.”

Mr. Scindia — referred to as Shrimant and Maharaja by the compeer, Gwalior City’s Congress President Darshan Singh — listed the industrial projects and rail links constructed in the State during the tenure of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi. “Today Rahul Gandhi is giving you four times the value of your land in the new Land (Acquisition) bill. The BJP has only tried to stall it... We must take revenge of them on November 25 [polling day],” he said.

Mr. Gandhi later visited the hospital to meet those injured in the Datia temple stampede. Local Congress activists raised a protest earlier in the day after hospital authorities tried to discharge people before their treatment was completed.