It was the day of the Gandhis in the Uttar Pradesh poll campaign on Sunday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress MP Rahul Gandhi and his sister Priyanka hogging the talking space for the party and its first family.
Even as the PM showered praise on Congress president Sonia Gandhi and told the electorate that Rahul was “their future” and that of the “new UP”, the Congress MP from Amethi stirred up a hornet’s nest while showcasing his family’s track-record. “You know that when my family decides to do anything, it does it. Be it the freedom struggle, the division of Pakistan or taking India to the 21st century,” he said at an election rally in Badaun. “I belong to the family which has never moved backwards, never gone back on its words.”
In UP’s communally surcharged environment, Rahul’s reference to the 1971 war that led to the creation of Bangladesh could prove to be a double-edged weapon. It remains to be seen how it cuts with the electorate in UP where Rahul is leading the campaign for his party, widely perceived as a marginal player.
The BJP, SP and CPI castigated the remarks. They also drew a sharp reaction in Pakistan, provoking Foreign Office spokesperson Tasnim Aslam into branding them as an “admission” of India’s interference in that country’s internal affairs.
The BJP — whose national-security plank Rahul sought to whittle with his 1971 war comment — promptly recalled the blots in the Congress report card: the Partition, the Emergency, the anti-Sikh riots and the IPKF misadventure in Sri Lanka.
Even the CPI, a UPA ally, advised Rahul to talk not about the past but Mulayam Singh Yadav’s misrule. The SP’s Amar Singh said the Congress MP’s sole objective was to find a niche for himself in the state.