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Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi launched his party’s poll campaign in Madhya Pradesh on Thursday by hard selling the UPA’s landmark Food Security Act in this tribal-dominated district.
“After the Food Security Bill, for the first time in India no one will be hungry. Who guaranteed this? It is the Congress party because we understand your hunger?” he told a gathering at Shahdol.
He added that his mother, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was anguished that she could not vote in favour of the bill when lawmakers cleared the welfare scheme in the Lok Sabha last August.
Sonia Gandhi was forced to leave Parliament because of ill health just before the bill was put to vote.
"When I took her to hospital, she could hardly breathe and tears welled up in her eyes. She said, ‘Rahul, I fought for the bill for years, I wanted to press the button (to register her vote) but could not,’” Rahul said.
The bill, now the Food Security Act, seeks to provide highly-subsidised food grains to nearly 70 per cent of the country’s population and is arguably the biggest programme in the world against hunger. The Congress is optimistic that it will shield the UPA from the anti-incumbency factor in the 2014 elections.
Rahul criticised the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in MP for its “tall claims” of development. He claimed pockets of the state were as badly off as certain African countries.
“A UNICEF report has placed MP at par with African countries worst-hit by hunger. As far as hunger is not eliminated, development is not possible,” he said.
Respect more important than progress
Showcasing Congress party’s efforts to empower common masses so that they can have a life of dignity appeared to be the underlying theme of Rahul’s speeches.
“Respect is more important to me than progress and prosperity. I would like to ask the youths and women in this rally whether tribals felt like living a dignified life during decade-long BJP rule in MP,” said Rahul at the rally in tribal-dominated Shadol.
He dwelled on the same theme in urban Gwalior as well, saying “road construction, building of airports and bridges is important but ensuring respect to common person is more essential”.
He said the “highhandedness” of ruling BJP in MP amounts to disrespect for common men.
Rahul said the Congress, if voted to power in the state, would guarantee a life of dignity to women, children, youth, tribals and other vulnerable sections of the society and if it does not happen, he would make it happen.
Addressing a massive gathering at Mela Ground in Gwalior, he attacked the Shivraj government for “blatant corruption” in the state and said “it wouldn’t be improper to describe the BJP government in the state as nursery of corruption as it has mastered the art of corruption”.
Welcoming Rahul to his bastion, union minister of state for power Jyotiraditya Scindia said the Congress has always devised policies for the welfare of poor, dalit, marginalised and backward classes to empower them.
He recalled the contribution of his father Madhavrao Scindia in development of industries, infrastructure and railway in Gwalior and Chambal region under the leadership of former prime minister Indira Gandhi and then Rajiv Gandhi.
Rahul interacts with stampede victims
Rahul, accompanied by Jyotiraditya Scindia and other top party leaders from MP paid a brief visit to Datia district hospital to meet the pilgrims injured in the stampede at Ratangarh temple in the district on Sunday.
As many as 111 people were killed in the tragedy, majority of them women and children.
Several Congress leaders had attacked the BJP government for mishandling the huge pilgrim rush at Ratangarh temple. Rahul’s visit to hospital was part of the strategy to sustain that attack.
During his brief stay at the hospital, he interacted with some of the 42 injured persons and inquired about their health and the quality of the treatment.