The Congress may not lose sleep over those lost ‘khats’ but the few minutes of chaos did land the party in an embarrassing situation in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
Nearly 1,000 stringed cots – khats in local parlance – were taken away on Tuesday by villagers attending a rally by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who launched his Deoria to Dilli yatra to connect with voters ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
As soon as Gandhi left the meeting venue, Rudrapur Inter College ground, villagers jostled to collect the stringed cots popular in the countryside.
Men, women and children all scampered to collect one each, carrying off the loot on their heads, bicycles and motorbikes.
Local Congress leaders tried to stop the people but were pushed aside as the villagers quickly emptied the ground of the new khats arranged by Congress MLA from Rudrapur Akhilesh Pratap Singh.
“What will the Congress leaders do with the khatias?” said one farmer who identified himself as Ram Lakhan, when asked by a Congress leader to put down the cot he was carrying on his head.
A brainchild of the Congress election strategist Prashant Kishor, hundreds of ‘khat sabhas’ will be held along Gandhi’s 2,500 km-long yatra during which he will cover 233 assembly constituencies.
The Congress has specially made the colourful ‘khats’ by artisans in Bihar and other states for the event, part of a grand campaign lined up by the party to end its 27-year exile from power in the country’s most populous state.
The Congress was quick to deflect criticism, saying attacking the party on the issue would boomerang on the opposition as these khats still hold importance in the countryside.
“Whoever tries to belittle the issue will do an injustice to the poor villagers. Certain people in this country make away with thousands of crores of rupees and when a few villagers take home a thing as innocuous as a cot, all hell breaks loose,” said Meem Afzal, the party’s national spokesperson.
“#ReplaceMovieNamesWithKhats” was trending on Twitter, with people posting photos of villagers carrying cots from the gathering soon after Gandhi concluded his speech.
WATCH: Chaos breaks out as locals fight for Khatiyas(wooden cots) after Rahul Gandhi's Khat Sabha in Deoria ends pic.twitter.com/4tUxP81L1w— ANI UP (@ANINewsUP) September 6, 2016
Game of Khaats#ReplaceMovieNameswithKhaat— Bahadur(@my2bit) September 6, 2016
For the record, in his speech Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “ignoring” the problems of farmers and promised them loan waiver, higher support price for their produce and reduction in power tariff.
In Delhi, BJP spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi did not mention the loot but asked Gandhi whether he slept “on a prickly cot”, using a colloquial parlance of UP about people making “illogical comments”.
State BJP chief Keshav Prasad Maurya alleged that villagers were lured into attending the ‘khat sabha’ on the promise of getting cots.
“The khat loot that followed proves us right. It also shows that the villagers had come for the cots than to hear Rahul Gandhi,” Maurya said.
For many among those gathered for Gandhi’s rally, the speech was forgotten as soon as he finished speaking.
“I informed my brother to reach the ground (venue) to help me carry these cots,” said Amar Pal, who managed to grab two cots.
Sarita Devi, 47, justified her action.
“I had to leave all farm work to come to the venue for the ‘sabha’ on the request of local Congress leaders. Now, at least I have some solace that I have managed to grab a khatia.”
(With agency inputs)