Rahul Gandhi, heir apparent of the Nehru-Gandhi political dynasty, launched his party's campaign for next year's Uttar Pradesh elections by slamming his two principal rivals in the poverty-stricken state.
In reply to a mocking question from the state's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Chief Minister Mayawati asking him "why does the prince get angry?" Gandhi replied on Monday that he gets angry at the plight of the poor, as both Mayawati and the Samajwadi Party's (SP) Mulayam Singh Yadav have forgotten their destitute constituents in their lust for power, the Times of India reported.
Gandi claimed funds for poor were being pocketed by BSP ministers and workers, police stations were being run by criminals and farmers protesting land acquisition were being shot dead and their women raped with charges of being Maoist rebels, the paper said.
In an attempt to provoke the voters to look towards Congress, he referred to migrant workers from the state to ask, "How long will you beg in Maharashtra, how long will you do hard labor in Punjab... your governments have cheated you the most in 20 years." He said it was time to stop governments of one caste or religion.
As the most populous state in India, Uttar Pradesh -- home to the Gandhi family's own constituency -- often proves pivotal in national elections. Over the past several years, Gandhi has been trying to wrest back support from Dalits, Muslims and other underprivileged groups in the state who turned away from the Congress Party as caste-based parties like the BSP and SP emerged over the past 20-odd years. His efforts -- which have included sharing meals with the same Dalits most upper caste politicians still treat as untouchables -- have not won him any love from Mayawati.
Now that he's taking her on head to head, though, it's clear that he'll need to be careful in choosing his words. His comment that UP migrants "beg" for jobs in Maharashtra made him sound a bit too much like the anti-migration Shiv Sena -- giving his rivals new ammunition and alienating the very groups he went to UP to win over.