Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi launched his party's campaign for the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections from his great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru's Lok Sabha constituency, Phulpur, on his 122nd birth anniversary on Monday.
Phulpur was a Congress bastion for nearly 20 years, having voted Nehru to the Lok Sabha thrice from 1952-1962. It also sent his sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit and VP Singh to the Lok Sabha in 1967 and 1971.
Assembly elections are due in UP in the first half of next year and the Congress, which currently holds a paltry 20 seats in the 403-member House, is banking on Gandhi to improve its tally significantly this time around.
Addressing a huge gathering at Phulpur's Jhusi town, 200 km from Lucknow, Gandhi, emphasised the need to put the state on the path to development and prosperity.
Lamenting the decline of India's most populous state, Gandhi said, "Uttar Pradesh has been going backwards. Nehru was an MP from here but the mafia and criminals are MPs from here these days."
It was not long before Gandhi, described by Bihar CM Nitish Kumar as the "natural choice" for Congress presidentship, mounted a scathing attack on the Bahujan Samaj Party government headed by Mayawati.
Blaming her government for misusing central funds and corruption, he said the Centre granted a special package of Rs 7,000 crore for the impoverished Bundelkhand area on his insistence, but it did not result in any tangible work.
"The chief minister toured various parts of the state but did not care to go to the area reeling under a severe drought," Gandhi said.
"How long will you go to beg in Maharashtra? How long will you be going to Punjab as labourers?" Gandhi asked his audience.
This remark drew a sharp reaction from the BSP , with its state president Swami Prasad Maurya retorting, "It is wrong as well disrespectful to say that people from Uttar Pradesh were going to Maharashtra and Punjab to beg. They are not beggars, but hardworking people with a lot of pride".
Describing Gandhi's charges as baseless, Maurya said in a five-page statement that his comment that Mayawati did not visit Bundelkhand was also wrong.
He said Mayawati had visited the region several times and is deeply connected with the grassroots.
Gandhi's arrival by helicopter at Jhusi was marked by a scuffle after four Samajwadi Party youth wing activists, waving black flags, broke the security barricade at the helipad and began approaching the chopper.
They were beaten back by the police and Congress leaders including union minister Jitin Prasada.
SP spokesperson Rajendra Chaudhary played down the incident, saying the activists should not have jumped into the barricaded area.
After Gandhi left the venue, several central Congress ministers and leaders, including Raj Babbar, were seen in a jubilant mood, waving Congress flags to the public, which seemed to be in no mood to leave the venue.
With HT correspondent Lucknow