The Congress’ bid to make a splash with Rahul Gandhi’s ‘Khat Sabhas’ as part of a major outreach to farmers ahead of Uttar Pradesh assembly polls left it embarrassed when people attending the inaugural event made away with thousands of cots amid chaotic scenes. The Congress vice president embarked on an epic 2500 km-long ‘Kisan Mahayatra’ from Deoria in eastern Uttar Pradesh and held the first ‘Khat Sabha’ (charpoy meeting) where he interacted with the locals.
Moments after he left having made a raft of promises like farm loan waiver, reduction of power tariff and higher minimum support price for agricultural produce, the venue plunged into utter chaos with men, women and children scampering in, lifting the charpoys and hurrying towards their homes.
There were minor altercations as policemen were seen walking leisurely, stopping none from carrying away the cots.
When asked about it, a villager quipped, “Kya hai ki Rahulji ne hi diya hai (It is given by Rahulji)”, even as he gingerly balanced the rally takeaway on his shoulder Congress leaders, travelling with the party scion, were quick to deflect criticism over the matter, saying attacking the party on the issue would boomerang on the opposition as these khats still hold importance in the countryside. The party has arranged 10,000 khats for the entire campaign.
“Whoever tries to belittle the issue will do an injustice to the poor villagers. Certain people in this country make away with thousands of crores of rupees and when a few villagers take home a thing as innocuous as a cot, all hell breaks loose. This shows the mentality of the BJP,” Congress National Spokesman Meem Afzal said.
Rahul is slated to hold hundreds of such khat sabhas and street corner meetings across his 2,500 Km-long marathon yatra during which he will cover as many as 233 assembly constituencies to connect with the people ahead of the polls scheduled next year. The Congress party has specially got 2000 of these colourful ‘khats’ made in Bihar and other states for the event.
Earlier, Rahul reached Rudrapur via chopper and launched the party s door-to-door campaign to collect Kisan Mangpatras (charter of farmers demands).
The ‘khaat sabha’ is believed to be the brainchild of election strategist Prashant Kishor where Rahul Gandhi would interact with the farmers in the run up to the UP Assembly polls.
Kishor was also credited with conceptualising Narendra Modi’s hugely popular ‘chai pe charcha’ events during the latter’s successful prime ministerial campaign.
Rahul Gandhi talking to people during the ‘Khat Sabha’ (PTI)
The BJP mocked Rahul Gandhi’s remarks on promises for farmers as his “seasonal expression of sympathy in the season of elections” and claimed that while states ruled by it have seen maximum agricultural growth, those by Congress are known for cases of “land-grab”.
The saffron party was also dismissive of the Congress vice president’s pitch for loan-waivers for farmers, claiming that its governments worked to enhance their capability as it cited a CAG report to allege that a Rs 51,000-crore scam occurred during one such waiver during the UPA-I government.
“The Congress vice president, the 46-year-old eternal youth of the India politics has said a few things about farmers…Rahul Gandhi who goes abroad to attain knowledge and concentration, was in the eastern UP today for a seasonal expression of sympathy in the season of elections,” its spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi told a press conference.
Taking a swipe at Gandhi, he said that his “baseless and ridiculous” charges at the Modi government were an expression of his “self-knowledge”, claiming the plight of farmers was an indictment of the close to six decades of Congress governments in the country.
The fate of farmers was turned upside down during these times, he said, referring to controversial land deals involving Gandhi’s brother-in-law Robert Vadra.
There is a fundamental difference between Congress and BJP over the issue of farmers, Twivedi said, adding that while the former believed in waiving their loans and providing them short-term employment, his party is “committed to increasing their natural capabilities and strength”.
BJP ruled-states relaxed conditions for giving loans to farmers by bringing down interest rate to zero in several cases and the Modi government has come out schemes like crop insurance to protect them against any unforeseen farm, he said.
He also recalled the central government’s tough stand in the WTO talks in 2014 to “save” the interest of farmers to claim, “From the farms in villages to the global forum like WTO, the work of NDA government under Prime Minister Narendra Modi for farmers and its commitment to them is unparallelled.” For a party which could not understand the pain of farmers during its 56 years in governance to make such claims now, is “baseless and ridiculous”, he said.
Nothing new about khat sabhas
A woman lifts a cot during Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s Khat pe charcha programme as part of his Kisan Yatra for upcoming UP polls, in Deoria on Tuesday (PTI)
Organising ‘khat sabhas’ (charpoy meetings) has been a common form of electioneering in tribal-dominated districts of Jhabua and Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh, long before they became a part of strategy for expanding Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s connect with voters in Uttar Pradesh. The ‘khat sabhas’ fetched handsome dividend in the form of a huge victory for Congress in Ratlam-Jhabua Lok Sabha by-election held last November.
In Madhya Pradesh, the tribals call such meetings as ‘khatla sabhas’. Holding of ‘khatla sabhas’ was believed to be the major reason behind former Union minister Kantilal Bhuria’s victory over his nearest BJP rival Nirmala Bhuria. He had defeated Nirmala by a margin of 88,832 votes. The ex-minister had held a string of such charpoy meetings in run-up to the bypoll.
“Of course, the cot meetings have played an important role in the victory of my father,” admitted Bhuria’s son Vikrant while speaking to PTI today.
The ‘khaat sabha’ is believed to be the brainchild of Congress’ election strategist Prashant Kishor where Rahul Gandhi would interact with the farmers in the run up to the UP Assembly polls, due next year.
(With PTI inputs)