Varanasi, Feb. 6: Big brother joined little sister today on what appears a concerted tandem ride to impress upon Uttar Pradesh that the Gandhis’ primary political investment lies in the state, nowhere else.
A day after Priyanka told whistle-stop gatherings in Amethi that she did not think becoming Prime Minister was “the central focus” of Rahul’s politics, the Congress general secretary and campaign spearhead attested to local commitment at the expense of loftier stations.
“I am not obsessed with becoming Prime Minister,” Rahul told his first formal interaction with journalists this morning. “A lot of leaders, top leaders are obsessed with becoming Prime Minister, Rahul Gandhi does not have that obsession. My obsession is UP, changing the face of UP, ridding it of more than two decades of corrupt and criminal rule, that is what Rahul Gandhi is obsessed with.”
As campaigning for the first of seven polling rounds in the state wound down, it is clear the Congress is telescoping its message on Rahul’s strident personal commitment to Uttar Pradesh.
“Kick me, black-flag me, throw chappals, fire bullets, do anything, but I am not going to go away,” he said, referring to protests that have peppered his appearances on the campaign. “I am not afraid of anyone, I learnt this from my grandmother. I am here, in UP, for the people of UP, I am not going anywhere.”
He called special attention on yoga evangelist Ramdev, alleging that he had been tasking his disciples to “create disturbances at all my meetings”.
While referring to “top leaders” obsessed with becoming Prime Minister, Rahul named nobody. But his fingers could have been pointed in several directions including — who’s to tell? — aspirants for the big job in the Congress. It is unlikely L.K. Advani and Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, who are actively refusing to rule themselves out of the race, were not top of his mind.
At one stage, Rahul stood up ramrod in mid-sentence, to demonstrate how the Congress is on the rise in Uttar Pradesh. “I am going to ensure the Congress is back on its feet and UP is back on its feet just like this. Whether we get 200 seats or 100 seats, the Congress will be up on its feet. We will define politics here, nobody else.”
But if this is a knuckle-down effort to impress upon the electorate that the first family of the Congress is renewing old vows of service to Uttar Pradesh, it could equally be confirmation that the Gandhis, Rahul in particular, view Uttar Pradesh as a critical, if not also desperate, battle to secure their own political future.
“There is little doubt Rahul is putting his all in this contest, and that is because he and his party see this as a game-changer,” said Arunashankar Mishra, an elderly private teacher whose family has drifted away from the Congress over the years. “If the party can do substantially better this time, it will not only begin to regain its punch here, it could also recover the political initiative in Delhi.”
Perhaps keen not to fritter away time on the trail, Rahul stayed away from the hectic mire of downtown Varanasi, and picked a hotel close to the Babatpur airport 30km from town, to display a combative self that was “unprepared to compromise” in the interests of the people of Uttar Pradesh.
Flanked by Rasheed Masood, a recent entrant to the Congress, and actor and party MP Raj Babbar, Rahul said: “It is my conviction that given a chance the people of UP can do wonders. I am here to ensure they get their chance, I am not interested in power, people have the power, I am here to become their transmitter.”
In eastern Uttar Pradesh for a final five-day scurry before the region votes in two phases on February 11 and 15, Rahul repeated his party’s resolve not to ally with any party post-election, even if that means sitting out of power.
“I want to tell the people of UP we will not align with goondas and thieves. Our only alignment is with the people of UP and I want to tell you that UP will produce a solid result for the Congress, UP is looking up to us.”