Ahead of his Kisan Yatra in Uttar Pradesh's Deoria district, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi had promised a 'karz maafi' (debt exemption) for distressed farmers provided the party comes to power in the state. But the crowd was too impatient to wait for that, who looted khats (cots) brought in for symbolic purposes soon after Rahul's grand road show launch ceremony ended. The luckier and more enterprising ones got some laddus and water bottles as well along with the free cots they could lay their hands upon. The crowd got what they wanted and that should worry Congress vice-president and his party cadre.
The way the cots were looted within seconds after Rahul concluded his brief speech, was clearly indicative of the fact that the crowd that had gathered there, on their own or arranged by the party workers, were least interested in what Congress vice-president had to say — his angry barbs against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP or the loan waiver and reducing electricity bills by half. They focussed on looting khats. The khats, all 2,000 of them, were freshly picked from market.
Interestingly, two hindi phrases, related to khats - 'khatiya lut jana' or 'khatiya khadi ho jana' - have negative connotations and are eerily symptomatic of what Rahul Gandhi's first rally in Uttar Pradesh was. It means that the person concerned has been vanquished or has lost his face. This is exactly what has happened to Rahul and his campaign strategists. Congress should now hope that the idioms do not translate into reality as and when votes for Uttar Pradesh elections are counted by the end of February 2017.
Rahul Gandhi, party strategists and more so, the party's hired external campaign architect Prashant Kishor, should ponder over the possible ramifications of this khat loot on their month-long roadshow. Could this scene be repeated in all the Khat Sabhas that Rahul Gandhi is planning to hold? The Congress vice-president aims to cover 2,500-km across 39 districts and 233 assembly constituencies in Uttar Pradesh. The bigger question is that if the party decides to do away with khats in Rahul's next sabha, will the attendance be thinner?
After all it was Prashant Kishor and Rahul Gandhi who had made Khat as central theme of Rahul's Kisan Yatra to distinguish it from his earlier rallies. Or will they realise that the idea of replicating Modi's chai pe charcha as their poll campaign idea in UP was a total bust?
In another article in Firstpost, this author had spoken to a few Congress members rooted in Uttar Pradesh at various levels of party hierarchy. According to them holding a mega road show by Rahul was not a good idea.
The way an extended podium was built for the rally on Tuesday and the way new cots were laid out all across the rally venue had clear stamp of a professional event manager organising it. Gone are the days when local Congress men would build austere podiums for their supreme leader. Rahul, on his part, launched his Kisan Yatra with what has by now become his trade mark small walk (space permitting) and short speech: "Aap log dur dur se aayen... Dhanyawad."
The fact that the Congress is trying to lure Brahmin voters of the state became quite clear when Rahul, before reaching Deoria, made a stop at Dugdheshwarnath temple to "seek Lord Shiva's blessings." Interestingly, Rahul's next stop is Gorakhpur, which is a stronghold of Hindutva leader and BJP MP Adityanath. BJP's Brahmin face in Uttar Pradesh and Union Minister Kalraj Mishra currently represents Deoria parliamentary constituency.
But all these problems are for later. For now, the Congress is faced with a khat-problem.