As Rahul caravan rolls through UP, farmers zero in on 'PK team'

Debt-ridden peasants in Hindi heartland make a beeline for strategist Prashant Kishor’s group hoping for loan waiver promised by the Congress vice president

Published: 11th September 2016 03:46 AM  |   Last Updated: 11th September 2016 03:46 AM   |  A+A-


NEW DELHI:“Aap PK team se hain?” (Are you from the PK team?) That’s the question on the lips of most farmers turning up for the roadshows as the Rahul Gandhi caravan rolled into Jaunpur, at the end of the first leg of his yatra that started from Gorakhpur and covered 100 Assembly constituencies in eastern-central Uttar Pradesh, straddling Awadh and Poorvanchal.

The Congress party has only one MLA from these 100 seats at present — this is Samajwadi Party turf mostly, accounting for Muslim-heavy areas like Azamgarh.

An answer in the negative to that question sees the farmer losing interest and turning away in quest of someone from the “PK team”.

The reference is to Congress strategist Prashant Kishor, and this parallel buzz shows how the Congress party is building up some momentum in its bid to revive itself in this huge swathe of Uttar Pradesh.

Prashant Kishor is moving around with a team of partymen who are armed with forms, where the most relevant entries relate to the loan/debt owed by the farmers. Locals are zeroing in on the team in the belief that this is a quasi-official exercise that will ultimately lead to a loan waiver, as Rahul has been promising in his speeches.

There’s something markedly different here from the last Assembly poll campaign. There too, Rahul had campaigned but Akhilesh Yadav ended up getting the votes. But it was an optics-heavy approach last time — Rahul would walk through the rice fields, occasionally picking up a poor child on his shoulders. This time, he has focused more tightly on farmers’ issues. The tactics are more process-oriented.

A well-mounted “PK style” campaign, it is aimed at gathering steam on the way, which it is doing.

And it’s running on the shoulders of local leaders — they are gathering people, also providing funds for local coordination. Unlike the impression people in Delhi may have of a dormant party structure, Youth Congress and NSUI cadre are visible on the roads. Rahul, when he’s travelling within a town, uses an open-top SUV. Bottles of water are kept at the ready (so that no repeat of Sonia’s Varanasi fiasco happens).

On the highways, he shifts to a huge bus — done up with slogans in Hindi on loan waiver, cut in bijli (power) price and hikes in MSP. The faces of a lot of local leaders adorn the sides of the bus too, along with that of Rahul and Sonia Gandhi.

Saturday afternoon, ahead of a two-day break for Eid, Rahul stops for lunch at a madrassa in Jaunpur. “The bawarchi (cook) is from Lucknow,” says an insider.

That’s typical. A common touch, along with food fit for the nawabs.

Heavy SPG deployment is of course part of the bargain. They are constantly sanitising the route.

During a roadshow at the Malipur chauraha, an SPG man was seen sanitising the fat marigold garland that is to be put around Rahul over and over again. In his speech, he picks up one Guptaji for cross-questioning on the petrol price, job creation and topics like that.

“Janta trast, Modi mast” (people in distress, Modi in delight) is a favourite one-liner for Rahul.

After the Eid break, the caravan will resume its journey into central and south UP from Allahabad, K Raju, Rahul’s close aide, tells Express. ‘’Just a two-day break, then we are back on the road.” Less ‘khat Sabha’ (cot conference) more roadshows.

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