Rahul Gandhi should dread the omens from his meeting at Deoria to launch his Kisan Yatra in Uttar Pradesh.
'Khatiya khari karna' is a popular saying in Hindi, which, when loosely translated, means somebody has been slammed so badly that he is almost finished.
The saying comes from the Indian practice when the cot of a deceased person is put upright in a corner, implying it would no longer be used by its usual occupant.
And, so it was at Deoria, a town in eastern UP on Tuesday. In a bid to launch his party's campaign in the state, the Congress vice-president started a 2500-km Kisan Yatra from the UP town on the Nepal-Bihar border. To give it the look of a panchayat, nearly 2000 khats (cots) were placed at the venue for the invitees.
Soon after the meeting ended, the audience made a dash for the cots, scrambling with each other to take home one on their shoulders. Even women wrestled with the crowd to take home one, perhaps to literally sleep on what Gandhi said at the venue, when he promised sops and waivers if the Congress is voted to power.
The post-rally loot is typical of Indian election gatherings. It is widely believed that a majority of the people at such venues, except die-hard supporters and party workers, are 'brought' to election meetings with some inducements. The greedy audience, thus, is always looking for some material benefit from their participation. Obviously, the prospect of going home with brand new wooden cots from Gandhi's meeting may have swelled the numbers at Deoria.
Yet, getting your khatiya put upright at the beginning of an election campaign may not be the portent the Congress would like. The party is already comatose in the state with some surveys suggesting a near-demise in the polls scheduled at the beginning of next year, putting its vote share at a pitiable five to six percent.
Wary of getting its khatiya khari, the Congress has already tried several new tricks and strategies. First, impressed by his record, the Congress hired poll strategist Prashant Kishor to plan the UP campaign, a decision that has led to emergence of a parallel power centre in the state.
Then, acting primarily on Kishor's feedback, the Congress brought Sheila Dikshit from the retirement home, making her the party's presumptive CM candidate in a bid to snare the Brahmin votes. But, with surveys indicating that her popularity ratings are in low single digits, Dikshit has so far been an outsider in the race, hobbling to the finish line while others have established a huge lead.
So, like always, the onus is back on Gandhi to put some life into the campaign, a miracle that he has failed to perform many times in the past.
Before starting the yatra, the Congress had reached out to at least 1.5 lakh committed workers to accompany Gandhi on his nearly 2500-km trek through UP. It was hoping that even if half of them turn up for the walk, the party may be able to reach out to a large number of voters in person and convince them to vote for the Congress.
But, events at Deoria suggest UP's voters may be interested more in looting the Congress cots than voting for it.
The signs, if not ominous, are definitely not auspicious.