“BJP leaders dream of coming to power even while running down each other”

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh has allowed the land, forest, medical and mining mafia to flourish while grinding poverty has shattered the lives of many, Congress president Sonia Gandhi told a cheering, largely rural, audience here on Friday.

“Instead of securing the future of your children,” she said, “the Shivraj Singh government has presided over a growing number of malnutrition deaths. Instead of helping farmers in debt, the government threw them into jail. Many of them committed suicide.” Around 20,000 schools, she said, had just one teacher each, and the government hospitals faced a severe shortage of doctors.

The crowd — that had a large proportion of women, dressed in brightly coloured mill-made saris — clapped loudly.

A morale booster

For the M.P. unit of the Congress, riven by factionalism, and demoralised by opinion polls suggesting it will lose for a third time, the response to and the number of people who showed up to hear Ms Gandhi’s first election rally in the state — that goes to the polls on November 25 — came as a morale booster, the organizers told The Hindu. This is especially so , as Khargone district – once a Congress stronghold with even a temple dedicated to Indira Gandhi — currently does not have a single MLA.

Indeed, those who came did not just fill the venue — an empty fairground on the outskirts of Khargone city, the headquarters of the Nimad region — but also choked the adjoining road. A local policeman on duty was so overwhelmed by the crowd that he quoted a figure double that claimed by the Congress.

In a concise 12 minute structured speech that, in the words of a local journalist, “mixed in equal proportion aggression, emotion, empathy and motherly affection” Ms. Gandhi launched a frontal attack not just on the BJP, but on Mr. Chouhan, the party’s mascot in the State, before heading north-east to Rewa to address another rally there.

Announces sops

But the speech was not all negative, as Ms Gandhi announced some of the party’s manifesto promises. The one that received the maximum cheers was the one relating to a commitment to waive all farm loans up to Rs. 51,000, and a reminder that the BJP had reneged on an election promise to wipe out all farm loans up to Rs. 50,000.

“Ours are not empty promises like the BJP,” Ms. Gandhi assured her audience, listing some of the other sops that the Congress has put into its manifesto. They include five-hp free electricity, one free electric connection for each BPL family, and land rights to Adivasi peasants who have been farming government land for three years.

The BJP got star billing in Ms. Gandhi’s speech: “Even in the daytime, BJP leaders dream of getting a kursi (chair of power), even though they spent so much time running each other down,” she said, adding, “But they are suffering from a misapprehension if they think people will vote for them again.”

For India, she said, was “the name of an ideology, a world view, a synonym for brotherhood, tolerance and sacrifice — something the BJP will never understand.” And then making an indirect reference to the recent riots in Muzaffarnagar, she said, “For these are people who can make brother fight brother. Beware of them.”

After she ended her speech, she came down from the stage and walked up to the barricades, edging the security D, even accepting a marigold garland, greeting wildly cheering supporters. And as she drove to the helipad, a km and half away, she stood in an open vehicle, waving to those who lined both sides of the road all the way.