Madhya Pradesh farmers' strike: Rahul Gandhi's theatrics bear imprints of UP as Congress hopes to turn its fortune

Going by Indian National Congress's perspective Rahul Gandhi succeeded in getting what he wanted when he set out for Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh. He and other party strategists knew in no way they would be allowed to reach this trouble-torn area where curfew is in place and several contingents of Rapid Action Force have been deployed to maintain law and order. The state authorities had denied him permission to go there. Thus their purpose seemed clear: get maximum mileage in the media out of a tragedy that happened two days ago (five farmers had died in firing during an agitation).

Rahul tried to play a hide and seek game with the Madhya Pradesh administration and police without realising he was an SPG protectee and his movements inside the country could be easily tracked by various security and intelligence agencies. He took a flight from New Delhi to Udaipur and from there he drove in a car, freshened up at a dhaba on the way to Madhya Pradesh border, rode a pillion on a motorbike, rode 'triplicate' (three persons riding a single motorbike), again changing the vehicle to drive in an open jeep and finally allowed himself to be detained by the Madhya Pradesh Police.

File image of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

File image of Rahul Gandhi. PTI

While riding as pillion on a motorbike for a photo op, or when he sat in the middle for a triplicate ride he and rest of his high-profile companions forgot that there was a rule that one has to wear a helmet while riding a bike. Besides, riding three persons on a single bike was illegal, with or without a helmet.

But before he climbed inside the 'vajrayan', anti-riot police bus, he gave a brief sound bite — his usual diatribe against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Having served his political purpose he got into that police bus, knowing it very well that he would be made to travel some distance in that van and then kept comfortably at some decent place for a while and released to take a flight back to Delhi or wherever else he wanted to go.

"You are not allowed to enter Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh if you don't follow RSS ideology. Modiji can't waive loans of farmers, give them a bonus and right compensation, can only fire bullets at them." Rahul said, adding that Modi government cared only for the richest of the rich.

Rahul was all over television new channels and digital media in the first half of Thursday. He had hit the headlines and made into debate shows for some television channels. Under Rahul's leadership, Congress may have lost vote and popular support but since he is Gandhi-Nehru scion and soon to be party president as per the dynastic succession norms of Congress, he still has newsworthiness and his actions make great visuals.

But Rahul was not alone in vying for a good photo op. He had in-house competition from the likes of Digvijaya Singh, Kamal Nath and Sharad Yadav. Soon after Rahul was detained these three leaders got into an argument with senior police officers who stopped them in Neemuch from going towards Mandsaur. Digvijaya threw his weight around at police officers: "I had been chief minister (Madhya Pradesh) for 10 years. He (Kamal Nath) has been a Union minister. He (Sharad Yadav) had been Union minister. We know the law. You can't stop us. We are here to douse the fire." Singh negated the charge that the violence was instigated by Congress, instead, he said that it was a result (of conflict) between two affiliates of the RSS.

As for Sharad Yadav, no one is quite sure as to what was he doing in a Congress' show in a state where JD(U) does not even have a presence. Since the time Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar removed him from the post of JD(U) president, Yadav has been trying hard to keep himself relevant. Getting himself accommodated in photo frames either at Congress-sponsored protests in the Parliament House or outside the doors of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Gilani in Srinagar or in Neemuch is, perhaps, the best way for him to be in public memory.

Rahul's riding a pillion on a motorbike reminded the author of the Bhatta Parasaul event. In summer of 2011, Rahul reached Bhatta Parasaul in Uttar Pradesh, about 50 kilometres away from New Delhi where farmers were agitating against land acquisition. Then Congress-led UPA was ruling at the centre. Rahul had ridden pillion on a bike to reach the venue. Digvijaya Singh had accompanied Rahul. Today again, Digvijaya Singh and a host of other Congress leaders were part of Rahul's aborted drive to Mandsaur.

Six months after Rahul Gandhi's high-pitched political visit to Bhatta Prasaul, Congress badly lost in the February 2012 UP elections. The party couldn't win even a single seat in the region Congress vice president had gone on a padayatra. In 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, Dhirendra Singh, Congress worker who drove Rahul to Bhatta Parasaul villages quit Congress and joined BJP. Rahul's month long Kisan Yatra ahead of the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election ended in as flop show with Congress managing to win only seven seats in the 403-member UP Assembly.

In Madhya Pradesh, BJP and Congress are pitted head to head. The BJP is in power in the state for the last 14 years. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan appears to be going strong. From Congress's point of view three of its prominent leaders — Digvijay Singh, Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia — are from Madhya Pradesh. The Congress senses political capital in the current farmers' unrest. The party leaders think that Rahul's photo op, being seen riding a motorbike and getting inside a police van would give the required fillip to party's fortunes.

They would be hoping that the history of Bhatta Parasaul in Uttar Pradesh does not repeat itself in Madhya Pradesh.

Updated Date: Jun 08, 2017 19:27 PM

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