Taps servicemen vote bank in Himachal

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Thursday said Bharatiya Janata Party leaders were seeking to lead the secular country after having spent their lives in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Speaking at a rally here, Mr. Gandhi pointed out the irony in the bid by leaders such as BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi to build a statue of Sardar Patel, who had categorically stated that the RSS was “a noxious organisation that can destroy this country”.

On a day-long visit to Himachal Pradesh, Mr. Gandhi addressed the rally after a “chaupal” meeting with ex-servicemen belonging to the State, at Tanda in Kangra district. Recounting the UPA government’s contributions, he emphasised the pushing through of the ‘one rank one pension’ scheme and said he was receiving thanks from former Armymen across the State. “I had only raised the issue since it concerned the brave soldiers who have sacrificed their lives in service of the country,” Mr. Gandhi said, thanking the Prime Minister and UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi for considering his demand on behalf of the servicemen, who are numerous in the BJP stronghold parliamentary constituencies of Kangra and Hamirpur. Terming the coming Lok Sabha elections a “battle of thoughts”, Mr. Gandhi claimed the Congress stood for empowering the people whereas the Opposition represented the country’s rich. Denouncing the NDA’s claims of enhancing infrastructure and roads as being a farce, he said the UPA had, in the past five years, constructed three times more roads than its predecessor had. He recalled that the BJP had criticised the telecom and computer revolution envisaged by his father Rajiv Gandhi, saying “it would lead to unemployment and ruin the farm sector.”

He said that during the 10 years of UPA rule, “at least 15 crore people were brought up from under the poverty line and given the right to employment and food”. He said he envisioned raising to the middle class level the 70 crore people who remained just above the poverty line.

Local leaders had, he said, informed him that a number of educational and industrial projects were set up in the State, which had progressed in spite of the erstwhile BJP government’s anti-Statehood stand. He said the UPA had established special freight and manufacturing corridors between Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai. He promised that the Congress would ensure women got increased participation in the government as well as party. He blamed the Opposition for not bringing the Women Reservation Bill in the Parliament.

He said the Opposition had no right to talk on corruption when it was the Congress which had brought the Right to Information Act and the Lokpal Bill. The Congress had, he asserted, given the general public vital information of the activities that took place behind the closed doors of bureaucracy.

Meanwhile, the State BJP has called the Congress rally of Rahul Gandhi a “complete flop show” since the party was able to draw very few people compared to the huge turnout at Mr. Modi’s rally in Sujanpur last month. It added that Mr. Gandhi failed to raise State-specific issues and kept repeating the clichéd lines of the speeches he had already made elsewhere, said the Opposition.

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