Five days after Narendra Modi broke the unwritten code of top leaders not campaigning in each other’s constituency by storming Amethi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi struck back with a massive road-show in Varanasi on Saturday.
But unlike Modi, who attacked him and his late father Rajiv Gandhi in Amethi, Rahul chose to remain silent and let the five-hour road-show do the talking in the final few hours of Congress’s Kashi campaign. Laying into BJP’s prime ministerial candidate was left to a battery of party leaders including Ghulam Nabi Azad, Pramod Tiwari and actor-turned-politicians Raj Babbar and Nagma.
In an apparent riposte to Modi, a big poster of Rajiv Gandhi adorned the vehicle that followed Rahul’s. While Rahul restricted himself to waving and smiling, the others raised slogans to lift the morale of body-painted party workers who sang and danced along the way.
But there was more to Rahul’s show along the congested streets of Varanasi, which Modi hopes to turn into his political ‘karmabhoomi’, than mere spectacle. This became evident as two Congress MPs — Mahabal Mishra (Delhi) and Rajaram Pal (UP) — waited in the heat to welcome him outside the Muslim-dominated Beniyabagh where Modi was not allowed to hold a rally on Thursday.
The Congress is desperate to win over Varanasi’s sizeable Muslim voters, who had helped AAP candidate Arvind Kejriwal pull off a road-show on Friday. But the Gandhi scion appeared to have impressed them less than 24 hours later. “Muslims by and large have started liking Kejriwal, but we also feel that Ajay Rai (Congress’ Varanasi candidate), being a local, is capable of addressing our concerns,” said Waqil Ahmed Ansari, 59.
Meanwhile in Delhi, the BJP once again criticised the Election Commission on Saturday for allowing Rahul’s road-show in Varanasi for “political reasons” after denying permission to Modi for holding a rally at Beniyabagh there.
“The (Rahul) road-show is happening at a place where we were not allowed to hold a rally. This proves that political reasons rather than security reason were at work,” senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said, calling the poll panel’s action a ‘big blot’ on the electoral process.
Earlier, the EC gave a clean chit to Rahul on a complaint that he was in the voting compartment during polling in Amethi on May 7.