‘Outsider’ punch and pangs for Rahul

Jan. 19: Rahul Gandhi today hit out at a BJP candidate dubbed an “outsider” but ironically, it’s the “outsiders” fielded by the Congress who are increasingly forcing him into damage-control mode.
Rahul is now exhorting Congress workers across Uttar Pradesh to give their best following reports of a lack of enthusiasm and widespread resentment against allotment of tickets to defectors from other parties.
He is also launching unusually acerbic attacks on opponents, one of them coming against the BJP’s Uma Bharti, who was fielded from Charkari in Bundelkhand yesterday.
Rahul scoffed at how the former Madhya Pradesh chief minister had reached Uttar Pradesh just a fortnight before the polls after being “chased away” from her home state.
Uma, struggling to shed the “outsider” tag from rivals in her own party, responded by reviving Sonia Gandhi’s Italian roots. She mockingly described herself as Rahul’s bua(aunt).
“Rahul’s mother is from Rome and yet she was accepted by the people of India,” Uma said. “I have great respect for his mother. I am from Madhya Pradesh; I’m not an outsider. Rahul should remember his mother’s origins before attacking his aunty.”
As for the Congress’s “outsiders”, their entry has created unrest among party workers in around 75 constituencies. Many Congress leaders have cautioned Rahul against ignoring loyal party soldiers in favour of opportunists who have flocked to the Congress only because their own parties denied them tickets.
“There have been instances when outsiders received a Congress ticket within hours of being rebuffed by their parent party,” a Congress leader from western Uttar Pradesh said.
“In my constituency, we fought the BJP tooth and nail and now the BJP man has been given a ticket. We have an ideological problem with that man; we can’t support him.”
Another section of Congress workers and leaders are unimpressed with the revival stories and insist the party will remain a poor fourth. “A few seats may increase,” a source said but argued that Rahul’s aggressive campaign may not be enough to transform the party’s fortunes.
Rahul, though, has been trying to convince senior leaders that a revival is on the cards.
Party strategists are now hoping for around 60-70 seats. They believe the campaign has been effective and have therefore shifted focus to managing the booths and addressing factionalism.
Sources said the high command had picked a band of experienced politicians for poll duty in Uttar Pradesh so they could help the candidates, many of whom are political greenhorns.
MLAs, MPs and ministers who have been contesting elections for a long time and are experts at booth management, worker mobilisation and handling dissidence have been sent from various states to the districts of Uttar Pradesh.
They are working in consultation with the district committees and sending feedback to the central leadership.
Some leaders are keen to draft Priyanka Vadra, who has returned to Delhi after three days in Amethi and Rae Bareli, into the campaign.
Rahul has been requested to organise at least one rally by Priyanka in each of the state’s central and eastern regions. The option has not been ruled out.