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In Rajasthan, Rahul flags welfare schemes to counter Modi

Mahim Pratap Singh
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‘Eat full roti, work 100 days and vote for Congress,’ he says addressing a rally at Salumbar

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the party's Adivasi-Kisan Rally at Salumbar in Udaipur on Wednesday.- Photo: Rohit Jain Paras
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi at the party's Adivasi-Kisan Rally at Salumbar in Udaipur on Wednesday.- Photo: Rohit Jain Paras

It was in this small tribal town, nestled amid the Kerwa forest, that Rahul Gandhi, the youngest political descendant of India’s grand old party, came face to face with Rajasthan for the first time on Wednesday.

“I want to crush my own dreams and make your dreams mine,” the Congress vice-president told lakhs of adivasis who eagerly waited to hear him out. The crowd was restive before his arrival and enthusiastic when he finally appeared.

“The Opposition says India’s development will come with huge bridges, long roads and airplanes. We agree, but there is one more thing. We say that the country’s progress is only possible if the poor, dalits, adivasis…, the people who build these bridges and these roads, are empowered,” he said to loud cheers from the crowd.

In his over 45-minute, moderately emotional speech, Mr. Gandhi managed to connect with his huge audience by intermittently interacting with them, eliciting a cheerful response every time. “Our vision for this country wants everyone to shine — the poor, adivasis, dalits, men, women…everyone — while the Opposition wants to forget all these people, all these differences,” he said.

A day before, Gujarat Chief Minister and BJP’s putative prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi addressed his maiden political gathering in the State, in Jaipur. Comparisons, though inevitable, run the risk of being subjective. But if crowd presence is the measure of a leader’s popularity, Mr. Gandhi’s meeting, attended by 2-2.5 lakh people, scored higher than Mr. Modi’s 1.5 lakh.

Aadhi roti, khayenge, Congress ko layenge purana nara hai [We will eat half-a-roti and vote for the Congress is an outdated slogan],” Mr. Gandhi said, evoking the party’s austerity slogan. Aaj ka naya nara hai: poori roti khayenge, sau din kaam karenge, muft dawai lenge aur Congress ko layenge [We will work 100 days, on a full stomach, get free medicines and vote for the Congress], he said, referring to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot’s flagship free medicine and diagnosis scheme.

Earlier, Mr. Gandhi was welcomed with a colourful bow and a traditional Mewari turban as tribal artistes danced to spunky drumbeats.

“I was talking to some labourers in Uttar Pradesh a few days ago, and I asked them to tell me something about their lives. They said they worked hard, fell sick and had to spend their income on medicines. But in Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlotji has launched the free medicine scheme to address this issue. At the Centre, we have launched such schemes as Right to Food and Right to Work,” he said.

“In Niyamgiri, tribals used to worship the hills but a big businessman grabbed their land. This was wrong. Therefore, the United Progressive Alliance government has brought in a revamped land acquisition Act to ensure that the poor are consulted before their land is bought,” Mr. Gandhi said.

Union Ministers Girija Vyas and Sachin Pilot, Congress Working Committee member C.P. Joshi, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot and Pradesh Congress Committee chief Chandrabhan were present on the stage with Mr. Gandhi.

All senior leaders, including Mr. Gandhi, refrained from naming Mr. Modi or any senior BJP leader. Mr. Chandrabhan said Mr. Modi’s rally had people from across the State, whereas Mr. Gandhi’s meeting was attended by people from seven districts of the Mewar region.

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