The Congress may have its hands full in trying to make a mark in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly polls but the party now has a new worry – stopping villagers from stealing stringed wooden cots set up for meetings by vice-president Rahul Gandhi.
The Congress leader on Tuesday launched his 2,500km-long Deoria-Delhi Kisan Yatra to reach out to voters to revive the party’s fortunes in the country’s most populous state that goes to the polls in early 2017.
But hours after the meeting, villagers could be seen decamping with the cots, leaving the party embarrassed. Each cot costs Rs 500-600 and the Congress will need at least 5,000 of them daily – as Gandhi is expected to hold one or more khat sabhas a day.
Around 3,000 cots were used in Deoria, party sources told HT. A second khat sabha was also organised during the day.
It is difficult to get an exact number of cots the party would need but sources said the Congress had called for five to six sets of at least 3,000 cots. The calculation is based on the cots being moved to the next venue but after Deoria, the party may be forced to redo the math.
According to sources, vendors have arranged cots from Lucknow, Kanpur, some districts in west Uttar Pradesh and even neigbouring Bihar.
“I got the order for supply of about 125 khats a fortnight ago. I’m not sure whether these cots are being used in Rahul Gandhi’s sabha. I supplied the cots at Rs 500 a piece,” said Mayaram, a local cot dealer.
Party functionaries are also using public address system, requesting people not to take away the cots. “It is not about financial loss caused by the loot. This incident has shown the party in a bad light,” a leader said.
The khats were made of bamboo and plastic rope and were for temporary use. These were supplied by a vendor who may have bought them from the local market, another leader said.
The Congress has been out of power in the state for more than two decades and is pinning its hopes on the Khat -- the local word for strung cots – sabhas.
Questions are being raised about poll strategist Prashant Kishor (PK), who has planned the campaign, for failing to take into account the local conditions while organising khat sabhas.
“Team PK should have suggested that cots be borrowed from nearby villages instead of getting them from vendors,” a party leader said.
Khats are extensively used to seat people at social gathering in this area and locals often borrow cots from neighbours to meet the shortfall.
“The Congress is using the cots to get more and more villagers involved,” a Congress leader said on condition of anonymity.
Kishor was the one who came with the famous chai pe charcha campaign for Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. He moved on to work with Nitish Kumar’s Janata Dal (United) and was widely credited for the JD(U)-RJD Grand Alliance’s trouncing of the NDA in the Bihar polls last year.