Lucknow: Coming as a surprising twist in India`s chaotic political scene, chief of regional party Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Lalu Prasad on Saturday lauded Nehru-Gandhi family scion, Rahul Gandhi, for his stellar efforts in reversing the fortunes of the federal ruling Congress party in poll-bound northern Uttar Pradesh state.
Gandhi has staked his political reputation on reviving the Congress party in a state it has not ruled for 22 years. The Congress party won a miserable 22 seats out of 403 in the state`s last polls.
A key plank of Gandhi`s outreach efforts is to convince the poor, once a loyal support base for the Congress, but now increasingly fragmented into supporting regional parties seen as amplifying their specific concerns.
However, Prasad`s comments come as a surprise, considering the firebrand federal lawmaker has often criticised the Congress party over a range of issues-such as the Ombudsman Bill-in the national Parliament as well as the media.
At this particular rally held in the Bulandshahr town, Prasad was seen enthusiastically campaigning for his son-in-law, Jitendra Yadav-- a Congress candidate-and urging locals to vote for the Congress in the polls.
Addressing the rally amid thunderous applause, Prasad went on to heap showers of praise on Gandhi, stressing the Congress general secretary had single-handedly revived and strengthened the position of the party in the state.
"Rahul Gandhi has worked really hard in Uttar Pradesh to strengthen the position of the Congress party. He has carved a niche and created a unique identity for the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh through his efforts. Now, you (people of Uttar Pradesh) must give him your support and power," said Prasad.
The RJD chief also extended support to Justice Markandeya Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India, who had recently stirred a hornet`s nest by suggesting there was an acute lack of media freedom in eastern state of Bihar.
"The state government of Bihar has gagged freedom of the press and suppressed the voices of mediapersons. Justice Katju`s observations are completely true and valid. It is a factually correct finding. He has even setup a commission to look into the matter. The government of Bihar is trying to humiliate Justice Katju for his expose. We will do anything to ensure the freedom of the press. Justice Katju has done the right thing by bringing out the truth," said Prasad.
A few days ago, Justice Katju said although law and order had improved as compared to the regime of the earlier RJD government in Bihar, the press was still not allowed to function freely in the state. The comment sparked a fierce political outcry.
Meanwhile, political mercury continued to soar in Uttar Pradesh as contesting parties went on a campaigning overdrive in a bid to gain maximum public support.
Not one to be left far behind, Mulayam Singh Yadav, chief of state`s main opposition Samajwadi Party (SP), flexed his political muscle at a massive rally in Saharanpur town, urging voters to exercise caution while casting their franchise.
"The state government is about to complete its five years in power. The Bahujan Samaj Party ruled the state during the last five years. This is a large gathering of people, and everybody knows the ground reality here. Can you name even one thing that the BSP government has done for the common man of Uttar Pradesh during the last five years? It has done nothing," said Yadav.
The provincial polls in Uttar Pradesh are being viewed as an opportunity for India`s major parties to re-establish or strengthen their footholds in the country`s fifth largest and most populous state.
Uttar Pradesh is India`s most populous state and provides the biggest single bloc of seats in the Indian parliament. Ironically, it is also one of the country`s worst performers in several socio-economic indices.
The state has voted for five out of seven phases, with the last two phases scheduled for February 28 and March 03 respectively. The results will be declared on March 06.