Congress national general secretary Rahul Gandhi made his campaign debut in Haryana on Thursday, 100-km away from the Millennium City in the backward Ferozepur-Jhirka assembly under the Muslim-majority Mewat district, over three hours late, than scheduled.
Of the three Meo-Muslim predominant seats in the district – Nuh, Ferozepur-Jhirka and Punhana – the Congress had bagged just Nuh last elections, the rest going to INLD.
Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for “being a PM who promised all but delivered nothing”. “Modi is saying that India has achieved nothing in the past 60 years. He forgets that he is not attacking the Congress thus, but is disregarding the blood and toil of the multitude of workers and farmers who have worked so hard for the country that India today stands among the major nations of the world,” he said.
Gandhi said the Modi government was working only to the benefit of big industrial houses. “The BJP is running a government for big industrial houses only. We on the other hand, take care of the poor and the working people of India,” he said.
Casting further aspersions on the BJP regime, Gandhi also said the Central government was working against the interest of the poor as it had removed the price caps on medicines used in such diseases as cancer and diabetes. “A life-saving drug that was available for Rs 8,000 for a cancer patient is now available for close to Rs 1lakh. And Modi government did this at the behest of American companies even before he left for America,” he said.
Gandhi was flanked on either side by arch adversaries chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda and Haryana Congress president Ashok Tanwar, a close confidante of Gandhi. There were some uneasy moments for the crowd as both were seen talking to Gandhi intimately as if to convey their closeness to him.
Rajya Sabha MP Kumari Selja and national general secretary in-charge of the state Shakil Ahmad also shared the stage.
Trying to establish a connect with Haryana, Gandhi took up the spectacular success of the state’s sportspersons, especially wrestlers, have achieved at the international level. “We always exhort Haryana for its farmers and armymen in the slogan ‘Jai jawan, jai kisan’. We should rather rephrase it as: ‘Jai jawan, jai kisan, jai pahalwan’.
Interestingly, Manmohan Singh was conspicuous by his absence among the portraits of Congress leaders on the flax background of the stage.
Bhupinder Singh Hooda’s speech was marked by several potshots that he took at INLD and its supremo Om Prakash Chautala.
The most stinging was: “Constitutionally it is not even possible for Chautala to become an MLA and he is saying that he will take oath as chief minister from inside jail. I suggest, he conducts an election among his jail inmates and forms a cabinet of them in jail and then crown himself as CM there,” Hooda quipped.
“So many sitting CMs are going to jail and ironically here is a man who dreams to become CM inside jail,” said Hooda.
Realising the BJP as a minor factor amid Muslim electorate here, INLD being the main contender, the Congress leadership tried to sway the minority voters away from the latter by playing up possibilities of the BJP coming to power as a result of post-poll alliance with INLD.
Ahmad tried to play on the minority anxiety, while Tanwar tried to whip the bogey of majoritarianism and communalism.
Equating a vote for INLD as one for the BJP, Ahmad said, “The BJP and the INLD had an understanding in the Lok Sabha elections. This time too they are ready to form a coalition government. A vote for the INLD is one for the BJP and we cannot let the BJP come to power.”