Nov 27, 2008

India - Crowds love Congress' Gen Next hero Rahul Gandhi

New Delhi, Nov 27 (IANS) Charisma, youthful good looks, unassuming demeanour - to many commoners, Congress general secretary and MP Rahul Gandhi is coming across as a Bollywood hero, a Gen Next star who could actually swing the fortunes for his party in the ongoing assembly polls in six states.

This was once again in evidence when the 38-year-old scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty Wednesday flagged off his campaign blitz in the capital with a modest rally at Seemapuri on the eastern fringe. Delhi will vote Saturday.

'This is the first time we are seeing Rahul. He looks like a hero from Mumbai. He is like Salman Khan!' chorused a group of 10 excited teenagers led by a laughing Mohammed Ashfaq and his mates from a government school in Janta Colony in Seemapuri.

The crowd - a mix of lower working class Hindus, Muslims, government employees, real estate developers and Youth Congress workers - pledged to vote for the Congress at the end of Rahul Gandhi's breezy 20-minute speech.

An emotional 20-year-old Aamir, a Youth Congress worker, told IANS: 'He has to become the prime minister of the country. He looks so good.'

For mothers and housewives like Mehrunnissa, Asha Pandey, Laxmi Sharma and party MLA Vir Singh's wife Rajwati, Gandhi is the only one who can work for the welfare of his country.

'Look at his family. He will be a better prime minister than his grandmother (Indira Gandhi),' Pandey, a housewife and social worker, said.

The verdict from the crowd was unanimous - 'mohar, haath pe (stamp on the hand - the Congress party symbol)'.

If Rahul's speech smacked of inexperience, his personal charm made up for it. Clad in a slightly worn khadi kurta with a shadow of a stubble on his dimpled cheeks and dishevelled hair - Rahul looked every inch the crusader that he has been trying to be.

'If one has to be in politics, one has to have dreams. What are the dreams of the leaders for the nation that they are ruling? Sheila Dikshit's government has been charting Delhi's path on the strength of its dreams for the last 10 years. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), on its part, has been punching holes in the Congress dream for the nation,' Rahul told the crowd.

The Congress MP has been reaching out to the grassroots with his slogan that the poor, marginalised and the Dalits have to be empowered and educated to achieve optimum progress.

Gandhi has been meeting people personally - visiting Dalit homes, eating with them and spurring the youth Congress into action in states like Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh where he had been campaigning till last week.

He has also been participating in road shows and attended five on his way to Seemapuri.

He has chosen a simple strategy to take on its rival - mounting a direct offensive against the BJP and trying to highlight the 'pro-common man' image of the party.

'The Congress is a government of the poor, unlike the BJP which flaunted a shining India,' he said.

'Just before I came here, I browsed through the official website (of the BJP), went through the party's poll manifesto. I found that of the first 10 pages of the manifesto, the initial five were devoted to listing the shortcomings of the Congress. The rest of the five pages outlined the party's vision for progress,' he said.

But the BJP, argued Gandhi like a seasoned politician, had no blueprint for progress. 'Look at Madhya Pradesh, it has not made progress. And Rajasthan - nothing has been done there too. Now these states are using terrorism as an excuse for not failing to deliver on progress,' he said.

What sets Gandhi's campaign style and speeches apart from the rest is his style and body language. He is attentive to seniors and has a sharp eye for detail that factors in almost everything - from the nature of the crowd to the body language of his party men.

Gandhi's arguments are disarming and so are his gestures - like cleaning his spectacles with the edge of his khadi kurta or putting a protective arm around Sheila Dikshit.

'Delhi is run by Sheila Dikshit's Congress government. Look how much work she has done here. Every month, I see new flyovers, new roads and new hospitals and after three months, one loses track of old landmarks like roads,' he said.

And the Congress is playing his powers to the hilt.

'I left the Youth Congress two years ago, but returned three months ago. I like Rahul Gandhi's leadership,' 32-year-old local landowner Vinod Chauhan told IANS.

Gandhi's campaign in Chhattisgarh was not much different. He nailed the BJP on Maoist terrorism and poor development, saying welfare had taken a backseat in the rush to fight Maoist violence. In Madhya Pradesh, the plank was development and its imbalances.

Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Mizoram and Jammu and Kashmir are holding assembly polls in November-December. And Rahul has sure made an impact whenever he has gone campainging in some of these places.

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