Rahul woos farmers; Modi wave missing?
In a 40-45 minute speech, Gandhi went all guns blazing against the BJP and his chief opponent Narendra Modi.
The temperature hovered around 42 degrees and the midday sun was piercing through the colourful shamianas (tents) covering the open ground in Ramseen - a remote village in the Jalore district of Southern Rajasthan. As soon as the whirring noise of a helicopter started to slice the air, the crowd started cheering loudly.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi took to the stage after the local leaders including the Rajasthan Deputy Chief Minister Sachin Pilot gave their customary speeches. The crowd first leapt into a roar. Then there was silence as their leader started to speak.
In a 40-45 speech, Gandhi went all guns blazing against the BJP and his chief opponent Narendra Modi. From demonetisation to GST, Rafale controversy to rural distress, the young Gandhi tore into all the chinks in the Modi armour.
"I personally went to meet Narendra Modi to request him to waive the loans of 20 million farmers. I told him, let us waive it. Farmers will be happy. I will be happy. You want to know what his answer was? Sunoge? (Will you hear?) Rahul Gandhi taunted the crowd and followed it with a long spell of silence.
"This was his response. This! Chowkidar bilkul chuphogaya (The gatekeeper just kept quiet."
From a reluctant leader and a lousy speaker, Gandhi has come a long way. He has learnt how to work the crowd.
For a crowd that was predominantly from the rural villages in the Jalore Sarohi constituency, Gandhi's speech focused on his party's promises of economic reforms to improve the lot of the farmers.
He said if the Congress is voted to power in 2019, there will be two budgets - a National budget and a farmers' budget to help alleviate the sufferings of farmers.
"Modi promised to put 15 lakhs rupees into your account. Did anyone get it? You waited for five years. Jhoot pe Jhoot. (Lies after lies.)"
Gandhi said under the NYAY scheme proposed by the Congress, he has made the realistic offer of putting Rs72,000 into the account of 20 per cent of people who are poor.
"But let me tell you one thing that may make some people here angry. Don't tell me later I didn't warn you. The money I promised is going to go into the account of women. They will manage it wisely."
Gandhi claims the money will help kickstart the economy - that was punctured by BJP's anti-poor and pro-rich policies.
For the Congress, Rajasthan is a decisive battleground where it lost all the 25 seats to the BJP. The party is definitely emboldened by its win in the 2018 state assembly elections. The Congress won 100 seats increasing its tally from 79 while the party had to settle for 79 seats as against the 165 in 2013.
Will Congress be able to repeat the 2018 performance this time?
According to a Congress worker in Jalore, Modi and his popularity is the biggest challenge. "40 per cent of people here don't even look at the candidate. Their vote is for Modi. Most and 30 per cent of Congress voters will cast their vote for the party because we have done well in the state."
The party is hopeful of cashing in on rural distress as party representatives claim the Congress is more popular among rural voters.
"People now know that whatever the Congress says, it does. Voters have lost their trust in the BJP. People have pressing issues like unemployment and inflation. The Hindutva card and hyper nationalism is not going to work anymore. Our win in three Hindu-dominated states including Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are proof," said Rukshmani Kumari, President of All India Professionals Congress in Rajasthan.
Some of the respondents that Khaleej Times spoke to expressed disappointment over Modi government's performance.
"Look at the prices of onions, potatoes, and cooking gas. I am fed up with this government and going to vote for the Congress. I was a BJP supporter but was disappointed that he fooled us with the Rs15 lakh promise," said Saraswathi Devi, a housewife from Udaipur.
But many farmers in Siroi said they are displeased with the Congress government because they did not fulfill the promises of loan waiver after coming to power in the state.
"I think we are being played on by both parties. I tried my luck with the BJP last time. Now I am supporting the Congress. Rahulji seems like a good guy. His mother used to take care of farmers well and I hope her grandson will do the same," said Nooparam, a farmer from Ramsinh village.
Apart from the party infightings among different factions, the Congress also has to deal with a new entrant in the Rajasthan's political landscape - the Bhartiya Tribal Party (BTP) that won two seats in the last assembly elections.
But the BJP is confident that people will vote for the lotus party as Rajasthan still remains a BJP stronghold. "Modi wave is there everywhere. Congress is pretending that it is not there. He is a well-respected leader not only in Rajasthan but all over the world," said a party official from Udaipur.
According to him, BJP's candidates are stronger than Congress' in most of the constituencies, and they resonate well with the dominant castes. "Rajasthan's politics is all about caste equations. We have got it right. So we will win," he said.
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