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Phully Phulpur

You would have to be a 24-nugget idiot not to admire Rahul Gandhi, writes Indrajit Hazra.

columns Updated: Nov 20, 2011 01:44 IST
Indrajit Hazra

You would have to be a 24-nugget idiot not to admire Rahul Gandhi.

After having effectively come up with a gamechanging slogan, “Utho, jaago, badlo,” at his first 2012 Uttar Pradesh polls campaign rally in Phulpur — which essentially could be easily interpreted as telling the gathered members of the audience to get off their backsides, stop smoking up and turn into Punjabis or something — he tells them without squashing his dimples, “People of UP are appreciated for their hard work wherever they go in search of jobs. How long will you beg in Maharashtra? How long will you work as labourers in Punjab?”

After looking at the faces of flunkeys not quite bearing the usual quantum of joy, anyone else would have figured out that something was wrong. And upon finding that it was a gaffe of the magnitude that you normally associate with talking scones, anybody else would have run back to Delhi and stopped the tease of being a crypto-chief ministerial contender in UP and would have stuck to becoming PM.

But not Rahul. He is made of sterner stuff. Even before the sound bites of (Muslim) taxi-drivers from UP in Mumbai on television could be gobbled up by the specific noise of passing buses driven by Marathis, he had dashed off a letter to a central minister asking him to implement a special economic scheme for (Muslim) weavers in UP.

It’s not common to see effigies of Rahul Gandhi being burned. (One reason could be that these effigies are certainly more difficult to make than the ones of Manmohan Singh, as you just need to depict a blue turban on a pair of sticks for the latter.) But there they were, Rahul effigies being burned all over the universe where people from UP have ventured forth. In one protest rally in Varanasi, his posters were garlanded and immersed into the Ganga in a mock cremation ceremony. All this may seem dire to his supporters and aunties. But we all know what happens when a politician’s effigy is burned: from being an amateur, he becomes a professional.

Congressmen have either maintained a deathly silence on the matter or have cited that old chestnut, ‘He was quoted out of context’, the latter coming with the addendum that what the scion (a word that I just had to use because someone had dared me to use it and look like a 24-nugget idiot) actually meant was “How long will you beg for a job in Maharashtra?”. Er, as if that would settle matters.

But as I see the Amethi MP potter all across India’s biggest and most populous state — which makes one think what would have happened if everyone didn’t go to Maharashtra and Punjab and Delhi... and stayed put in UP — I recall my own trip there five years ago. This was during the run-up to the 2007 UP assembly elections and I was sitting across the venerable figure of Shyam Surat Upadhyay in Allengunj, Allahabad.

Upadhyay had won the Pratappur assembly seat (which, till recently, was part of the Phulpur parliamentary constituency) in the mid-1960s under the Socialist Party banner, before moving to the Congress. When I visited him, he was the sitting MLA at Pratappur. “Let’s be very clear. Castes exist,” he had told me. “Look at the BSP now. Mayawati is calling out to Brahmins. But do you really think that Thakurs will vote for a Dalit candidate or a Dalit for a Thakur?”

I asked him why the Congress was in such a moribund state in UP and Upadhyay was frank. “Leaders from Delhi come for a few days in Allahabad, stay in an air-conditioned hotel and meet a few local leaders before returning. The connection between local leaders and the people with the party in Delhi has broken down.”

Which is what Rahul Gandhi has come to fix now, I guess.

PS: Upadhyay didn’t retain his seat in 2007. He lost it to the winning SP candidate, trailing behind the runner-up from the BSP. And he’s the Congress candidate this time. So Rahul was serious when he said in 2007 that he wanted the Congress to go it alone in UP. You gotta admire him.