(Uttar Pradesh): Once rivals, now allies. The tie-up
between the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) was played up
in Uttar Pradesh Thursday with Rahul Gandhi and Ajit Singh making
their first joint bid to woo voters at a massive rally here.
This was their first rally ahead of the elections in the state
that begin Feb 8 though this western Uttar Pradesh area goes to
the polls only Feb 28.
As thousands of men, women and children packed into the Ramlila
Ground in Meerut, about 80 km from Delhi, listened, Congress
general secretary Rahul Gandhi made only one promise: his party
"would listen to the voice of the people if voted to power". RLD
leader Ajit Singh supported job quotas for Jats and backward
Muslims, caling it "social justice".
"We are not giving you any unrealistic promises. The only promise
is that we will listen to you, as the UPA governments led by
Manmohan Singhji and (UPA chairperson) Soniaji did," Gandhi said.
The crowd, a mix of Congress supporters mostly from urban areas
and RLD backers from villages, cheered merrily although Gandhi
arrived 75 minutes behind schedule.
Youngsters danced and waved flags when the election song of the
Congress, "Udo, jaago, badlo Uttar Pradesh!" (Arise, awaken and
change Uttar Pradesh), sung to the tune of "Jai Ho", was played.
Pushing the UPA cause, Gandhi said Congress-led governments had
implemented several pro-poor programmes like the Mahatma Gandhi
National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the UID
project. And so it was re-elected in 2009.
Hitting out at Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader and Chief Minister
Mayawati, he said her government was infamous for corruption,
oppressing farmers and misuising central government funds.
He did not spare Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav
either and criticised him for making unrealistic promises like
free electricity. "If you ask Mulayam to change the blue skies to
green, he will readily promise that too."
His ally Ajit Singh went on a slightly different track.
Keeping an eye on the Muslim population, Ajit Singh said that job
sub-quota for Muslims was neither new nor unjust. "It had been
recommended by the Mandal commission long ago."
Focusing on Jats, a community to which he belongs, he assured them
job quotas in central services.
Praising Rahul Gandhi, he said young leaders like him were
pursuing an agenda of development.
Several banners and boards feature Rahul Gandhi's grandmother,
former prime minister Indira Gandhi, and Ajit Singh's father
Charan Singh, also a former prime minister. Indira Gandhi and
Charan Singh were once bitter rivals.
But the times have changed.
"Politics changes over the time. Old rivalries also change," said
Feroze Khan, a Congress worker, who believes the alliance is "the
need of the hour".
The RLD and Congress entered into a electoral alliance in
December, paving way for the entry of Ajit Singh in the Manmohan
Sunil Tyagi, a Congress activist, said the new alliance would help
the Congress-RLD alliance win most of the seven seats in Meerut
In 2007, the BSP won five seats and the Bharatiya Janata Party,
which had allied with RLD, two seats.