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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Sep 2014

Rahul woos Dalits, tears into Modi at Punjab rallies

Kamaldeep Singh Brar and Raghbir Singh Brar, Hindustan Times  Bathinda/Panjgrain Kalan (Faridkot), April 28, 2014
First Published: 22:39 IST(28/4/2014) | Last Updated: 09:11 IST(29/4/2014)

Keeping the Adani corporate group in the firing line for alleged corrupt liaison with BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi here on Monday tore into Modi and yoga guru Baba Ramdev's unsavoury remarks about his visits to homes of Dalits. He also talked of the "development model in Gujarat and Punjab favouring two or three families".

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Last week, Modi had remarked that Rahul visited homes of the poor as "poverty tourism". Ramdev had sparked nationwide outrage when he said that "Rahul, a bachelor, visits Dalit homes for honeymoon and picnic".

Addressing two election rallies, at Bathinda and near Faridkot, Rahul tried to strike a chord with Dalits by underlining how the BJP was "making fun" of him "for visiting Dalit families". Faridkot is reserved constituency for Scheduled Castes while Bathinda has a high number of Dalit voters and significant effect of deras (sects) that have good following among the weaker sections.

On the last day of campaign, it was Rahul's maiden visit to Punjab in this election. He was seeking support for CM Parkash Singh Badal's estranged nephew Manpreet Singh Badal, the founder of People's Party of Punjab who is now contesting on the Congress ticket from Bathinda against his sister-in-law Harsimrat Badal; and for MLA Joginder Singh Panjgrain from Faridkot.

"Modi-ji kehte hain ki main Dalit ke ghar mein picnic karta hun. Soch dekhein! Unki mushkilon ko jaanane ke koshish karna, Dalit se baat karna, gale milna… kya yeh galat hai? Kya main koi galti kar raha hun? (Modi says I go for picnic at the houses of Dalits. Look at this thinking! Is it wrong to try to know their problems, talk to or hug a Dalit?" Rahul said, evoking thunderous applause at the well-attended rally.

He sought to contrast himself and Modi. "I can't remember if Modi-ji has paid a visit to any Dalit. He prefers to eat at the house of Adani, who is a rich man." Then, without naming the Adanis, he added, "The Gujarat government has handed over land worth thousands of crores to a particular industrialist and claims that Gujarat is shining."

He said both Gujarat and Punjab had "the same development model, [in which] the benefit of development goes to some selected people. Punjab is rich but the money flows into the accounts of two or three families only. Yet, Modi says he will fight against corruption. Can't he see corruption in Punjab?" Rahul remarked, without expressly naming the ruling Badal clan of the Shiromani Akali Dal.

He also showed concern over drug abuse: "When I came here in the past and raised the drug abuse issue, they made fun of me and accused me of distorting facts…. The youth of Punjab protected India in the past whenever invaders came, and they are still doing so by serving in the army. But who is protecting your children from drugs?"

Reacting to Modi's speeches at his five Friday rallies in Punjab, Rahul criticised his "excuse" of Pakistan being behind the drug problem: "Pakistan will do what it does. But the state government also has some responsibility." And then Rahul also sounded much like local Congress leaders who are pegging this election as assembly-like battle, and said, "I want to assure you that the Congress will not make Pakistan as an excuse on the drugs issue. You bring Congress to power in the state in 2017, and it will be our responsibility."

On Ramdev's 'honeymoon' remark, he said, "We speak with manners... But they cannot speak with manners… they can only talk good about themselves."

As a counter-point, though, Rahul took a cue from sister Priyanka Gandhi and raked up 'snoopgate', the tapping and other surveillance carried out on a young woman by the Gujarat regime allegedly on CM Modi's orders. "The entire government machinery is made to follow one girl in Gujarat, and then there is a Modi poster in Delhi that says, 'I want to empower women'." The Gandhi scion also noted that "20,000 are missing in [BJP-ruled] Chhattisgarh".

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