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Rise of the Gen X neta in Uttar Pradesh

Last updated on: February 3, 2012 22:16 IST

Rise of the Gen X neta in Uttar Pradesh

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Neerja Chowdhury

A new crop of politicians is redefining the dynamics of politics in Uttar Pradesh. Neerja Chowdhury analyses the mood change in the poll-bound state.

There is a sea change between the Rahul Gandhi at Phulpur in Nov last year, where he had kicked off his poll campaign in Uttar Pradesh, and the Rahul Gandhi at Meerut on Thursday, where he showcased his alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal along with Ajit Singh and his son Jayant Chaudhury, to reach out to people in Western UP.

If anything, the meeting underscored the rise of Gen X leaders in the country's largest state.

Rahul and Jayant stole the show. Though it was Ajit Singh's territory and the RLD had mobilised the crowds at the packed Ramlila Maidan, the moment Rahul's name was called there was an immediate applause from the audience.

Even the women rose enthusiastically in their enclosure, putting up their hands to indicate support. 

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Image: Rahul Gandhi addressing an election rally in Meerut


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Rahul had no notes before him, as he did in Phulpur. Several times he literally rolled up his sleeves purposefully during the course of his speech as he ripped into Mayawati and her 'cash guzzling hathis (elephants)' and the 'shining India' politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party.

He made only a passing reference to the failures of Mulayam Singh Yadav's three governments.
 

There was no tentativeness about Rahul this time, neither in his words nor in his body language as he sat confidently on the stage listening patiently to speakers who spoke before him. Only Ajit Singh spoke after Rahul, and the RLD chief was brief in his comments, as if he wanted the spotlight to be on the two young leaders.

 

Rahul was aggressive -- and impassioned (Haath khol do, karhiyan torh do, UP ko badal do (Open your hands, break your chains, change Uttar Pradesh) -- in taking on his adversaries, as he invoked the UP pride and the kind of state the people of the state wanted to create.

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Image: Rahul interacts with Ajit Singh's son Jayant


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He also said repeatedly that the Congress stood for kisans (farmers), workers, and the "poor".

His speech seemed to indicate that under him, the emphasis might shift back to the 'poor', from the aam aadmi focus the Congress had plumped for in 2004, as he talked about the poor weavers, the Dalits in Bundelkhand and the food security the government planned to bring.

Repeatedly, he came around to this theme -- saying that he was making only one promise to them, 'not 25 promises', like some other parties -- that the Congress-RLD government would be a government of kisans, mazdoor, and the poor.  

 

Meerut -- Rahul's demeanour and performance there, the response of the audience, and the remarks of people in villages around -- showed that he has established himself as a neta in UP, that the Congress is now being seen as Rahul's Congress in the state, and more important, that the party is in the fight this time.

No matter what the Congress poll tally, and it will certainly improve from the present 22, Rahul has arrived and is laying the foundations for the larger battle in 2014.

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Interestingly, the more seasoned Ajit Singh and Digvijay Singh emphasised at the meeting the need for including the Jats in the 27 per cent central job quota for the OBC. Digvijay said he had talked to party chief Sonia Gandhi and Home Minister P Chidambaram and set the ball rolling in this direction.

The exclusion of Jats in the central OBC list in 1991 -- the late Madhu Limaye had beseeched VP Singh to include Jats as OBCs -- was one factor, which had brought down the VP government. In the last years, several states have given OBC status -- and job reservation -- to Jats.

 

In contrast to the older leaders, Rahul and Jayant Chaudhary were more forward-looking, focussing on the need to create more jobs.
They did not talk about caste -- though both know its value, and after all, Rahul has not ignored this factor in the seat distribution in UP, which was mostly done by him.

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Image: File photo of Digvijay Singh with Ajit Singh


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Jayant, who spoke in flowing and fluent Hindi, underlined the principle of equality, opening his speech by paying homage to the 'revolutionary soil of Meerut', which had taken the lead in throwing out the British from India, and to the Constitution framers who had seen a dream where every Indian would be judged "not by the caste or community he was born in but by his worth".

It was not without significance that the young leader of the RLD, a party whose politics has been based on caste, should be setting his future agenda in non-caste futuristic terms.

 

Jayant, who reminded many in the audience of his grandfather Chaudhary Charan Singh, said he envisaged the kind of Congress-RLD government his grandfather had once given.

Jayant's wife Charu sat in the women's enclosure, patiently talking to the women who had gathered there, giving her phone number to those who wanted it!

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UP is witnessing a transition not just in the Congress and the RLD, but also in the Samajwadi Party with Akhilesh Yadav leading the campaign for the SP instead of his father Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has not kept good health of late.

Akhilesh too has made a point of breaking from the past by talking about computers, English and he sent a political message by keeping those with a criminal background, like DP Yadav, out of the party -- that this time, the SP was turning over a new leaf. 

 

The BJP too has brought in the comparatively younger Uma Bharati, who belongs to Madhya Pradesh but since she hails from Bundelkhand, she is drawing a response in the UP side of Bundelkhand.

As for the BSP, the 56-year-old Mayawati reins supreme, and there is no question of succession there.

 

At election time there are polls rallies where lakhs come and listen to their leaders and go away. But there are also rallies, where the atmosphere crackles with something that indicates a mood change, and Meerut was one of them.


Image: Akhilesh Yadav raking part in cycle rally with his supporters


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