For Rahul Gandhi, it’s (2,500) kilometres to go, (25,000) promises to keep

Promissory notes for Uttar Pradesh farmers in hand, Congress vice-president set to embark on 27-day padayatra

WrittenBy:Anurag Tripathi
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In 2003, Dr YS Rajasekhara Reddy, leader of Opposition in then undivided Andhra Pradesh, undertook a 1475-kilometre-long padayatra. Billed Praja Prasthanam, the campaign did not just help mobilise farmers — it also brought Congress back to power in the state. Come September 6, a Congressperson will embark on the longest campaign in the party’s recent history. Not just any Congressperson, though — the party leader in question is Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi.

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Hoping to propel India’s Grand Old Party back to power in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi will launch the Deoria-Delhi Kisan Padayatra from Rudrapur in Deoria district. From there, it is scheduled to cover 2,500 kilometres across India’s most populous state, reaching two crore people. Along with state Congress leaders, Gandhi is expected to travel across 42 districts, covering 225 Assembly and 55 Lok Sabha constituencies. The yatra will end with a farmers’ rally in Delhi on October 2.

The USP of the campaign is a unique form designed to woo the state’s marginalised farmers. Designed in consultation with Prashant Kishor, the party’s poll strategist for the UP elections, the Kisan Maang Patra promises debt waiver and halving of power tariff using a ‘promissory note’ by Gandhi. The form’s backdrop is a photo of parched land. Next to a picture of Gandhi is the slogan, “Karza maaf, bijli bill half, samarthan mulya ka karo hisab (debts waived, power bills halved, minimum support price revised)”.

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The Kisan Maang Patra will be given out during the Congress’ Deoria-Delhi Kisan Padayatra 

The form asks for details like name, address, phone number and loan amount. It has a counterfoil with a red-coloured seal saying “karza maaf”. As per the strategy, party workers will visit 25,000 households and ask them to furnish the details. Once the form is filled, the counterfoil will be given to the farmer. “It’ll work as a promissory note of the party,” said Congress spokesperson, Akhilesh Singh. “The idea is to hold our party accountable for poll promises.”

The form will be enclosed in an envelope with two stickers, one big and one small, featuring the party’s election slogan, “27 saal UP behaal (After 27 years, UP is helpless)”. Once a farmer fills the form, the big sticker will be pasted on his front door with his permission. The farmer will then be asked to give a missed call on a dedicated number of the Congress media cell so that his record is maintained in a database of debt-ridden farmers. The missed call will be returned with a recorded message from Gandhi, promising loan waiver once Congress is in power in UP. “The small sticker will then be pasted on the farmer’s mobile,” said Singh.

Congress poll strategists feel this strategy will benefit the party in two ways — it will win the farmers’ confidence, and take the poll slogan (“27 saal UP behaal”) to a larger audience.

Predictably, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) dismissed the move as an election gimmick. According to a recent survey by the party’s state unit, UP’s farmers have a cumulative debt of Rs 50,000 crore. “Most of the time, Rahul Gandhi is on vacation in foreign destinations,” said UP BJP office bearer Santosh Singh. “He remembers farmers only during election time.”

Congress retaliated by saying it has always thought of farmers and “does not believe in jumlas”. “After the 2009 general elections, we waived farmers’ loans,” said Akhilesh Singh, who is also overseeing preparations for Gandhi’s campaign. “This time, we will do the same in the state.”

Bheem Bhoj for Dalits, Brahmin sammelans for the forward castes, and now a Padayatra for the farmers Congress is leaving no stone unturned to gain a foothold in UP, a state in which the party has been out of power since 1989.

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