Politically, it was Nitin Gadkari’s day out.
At his first rally here, the BJP managed to have a packed Ramlila Maidan in the scorching heat. In attendance were L.K. Advani, Arun Jaitley, Murli Manohar Joshi and Sushma Swaraj, chief ministers of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand as well as activists. Gujarat CM Narendra Modi, however, stayed away.
The roads leading to the venue were dotted with hoardings, but featured only Gadkari and the party symbol, the lotus.
His new team may have faced some opposition, but the rally's success comes as a boost for Gadkari. His strategy of keeping controversial state president elections — in Delhi, UP, Bihar and MP — on hold worked. Gadkari’s plan was to ensure maximum turnout of leaders as well their supporters for his roadshow.
Taking a cue from Advani, Gadkari challenged the Congress for a debate in the media on the causes of food inflation. “I challenge, no maai kaa laal in Congress can answer them (our 14 questions on inflation).”
Advani had thrown a similar challenge to Manmohan Singh during the last Lok Sabha polls for a TV debate on who is a better candidate for PM.
The senior leader, who till now would be the last speaker at rallies signifying his position in the party, addressed the crowd but just before Gadkari, who took over the privileged position of the last speaker.
The other leaders reiterated points that the BJP has been making: grain was rotting while prices were rising; there was price rise in downturn days, which defied economic logic; that sugar had been exported earlier at Rs 12 a kg and then bought at Rs 22 a kg, which, they claimed, was a scam.
They also congratulated Gadkari for mobilising a large crowd in this weather.
“The inflation is because of the government’s bad economic policies,” Gadkari said. “This protest should now spread out to each village of India.”
Earlier, Sushma Swaraj had led a “walkout” in Parliament aimed at taking MPs to the rally. “The government has failed to control prices, so we are renouncing the House today.”