Ferozabad: Congress heir apparent Rahul Gandhi on Friday stormed Mulayam Singh Yadav`s bastion of Ferozabad, seeking votes for Raj Babbar against SP chief`s daughter-in-law, in a visit significant politically as much for being the first by Gandhi family in 32 years as for taking on the Yadav chieftain as directly as it gets.
Rahul attacked rival leaders in a rally at PD Inter College, promising development while recounting how his attempt to bridge the gulf between cities and villages was mocked by the Opposition but which he intended to continue nevertheless.
Addressing a responsive crowd, the AICC general secretary astutely slipped in a long-term strategy for UP as he focused on next assembly elections, a good two years away, while campaigning for a bypoll. "The change will be felt in upcoming state assembly polls when Congress, a party of youth, will emerge stronger," a report quoted him as saying, adding he "dreams of bringing back the bygone time when UP led the country".
A Lok Sabha byelection would not have created much flutter but for the fact that Mulayam has chosen to replace son Akhilesh Yadav with his apolitical `bahu` and Congress has pressed into contest an SP rebel and screen star Raj Babbar. Rahul`s visit tries to make up for the absentee local organisational muscle by conveying that the nominee is the leadership`s choice. His visit is also expected to pull in the minorities. As AICC secretary Vivek Bansal said, "The response to our star campaigners in two days shows that the tide is turning in our favour."
For a seat with sizeable Yadav and Lodh population, Ferozabad has been the barometer of Mulayam`s hold on OBCs. No wonder, he chose to stub the fear of OBC fragmentation by fielding a family member, notwithstanding the criticism. It was a suggestion given as much by partner Kalyan Singh as confidante Amar Singh.
However, Congress has chosen to take the development plank, realising that direct attacks on Mulayam`s family could prove counter productive. Rahul played to the script. "The party will not talk of caste and religion, it will talk about development and progress," he said, while talking about next assembly polls.