Rahul taking tried and tested route for 2014

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New Delhi, Oct 21: Taking a leaf from the Congress' 2004 campaign that saw it storming back to power, party vice president Rahul Gandhi is focussing on rural voters and the poor - historically the core support group of the Congress - by highlighting the UPA-II government's social welfare agenda ahead of the 2014 general elections.

The Congress under Sonia Gandhi focussed on and benefited from its rural strategy in 2004 at a time when the then ruling BJP was harping on its "India Shining" plank. Since then, the Congress has been devoting considerable attention to the rural segment through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in 2006 and the mammoth Rs.70,000 crore farm loan waver in 2008, both during UPA-I.

As the UPA-II's term draws to a close, the Congress is going to the people with its flagship National Food Security Act that aims to provide cheap foodgrain to around 800 million of India's 1.2 billion people, the largest social welfare initiative in the world.

Simultaneously, it is also talking about the land acquisition act which provides right to fair compensation and rehabilitation to those whose land is taken away.

Over the past weeks, Rahul Gandhi has been carefully taking the message of the two pro-poor and pro-reform laws to the voters while addressing rallies, whether in assembly poll-bound Rajasthan (Salumbar and Saran), Chhattisgarh (Jagdalpur) and Madhya Pradesh (Shahdol and Gwalior) or in Gujarat (Rajkot) and Uttar Pradesh (Aligarh and Rampur).

He even made an emotional pitch while addressing a rally in Gwalior where he spoke how his mother Sonia Gandhi wanted to vote for her pet food bill in parliament despite being unwell.

Experts believe focussing on rural India is a good electoral strategy for the Congress, whose leadership right from the days of former prime minister Indira Gandhi has been identified with pro-poor programmes.

Zoya Hasan, a professor in JNU, said: "It is a good strategy to focus on disadvantaged sections. They need to focus on rural poor and highlight UPA's inclusive growth as they are down in urban areas over corruption and price rise issues."

According to Badri Narayan, who teaches at the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Jhusi, near Allahabad, both Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been focussing on the masses through poverty reduction programmes.

"This is a good strategy and has worked well for them," Badri Narayan said.

"Two classes of haves and have-nots emerged from the liberal economy in the past two decades," he said.

Says Pradip Dutta, a political science professor at Delhi University: "The Congress has been consolidating its rural strategy in the past nine years."

This, said experts, is in contrast to the strategy of the BJP's prime ministerial nominee and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi who finds support in sections of the urban middle class, youth and corporates.

"Modi is targeting the urban middle class, youth and corporates," Dutta said.

Agrees Badri Narayan. "Modi is addressing issues of urban voters' concern like nation state and security," he said.

But Modi will have to be careful since the entire middle class is not with him as it is fearful of his "divisive"agenda.

"The middle class has not fully shifted towards Modi as there is a fear among them of his being a divisive leader. There is anxiety in the Modi camp due to this," said Dutta.

According to Dutta, this has compelled Modi to try "an image makeover as a secular leader whose priority is development over religion." Modi's recent remark, that he preferred constructing toilets to temples, was a case in point, Dutta pointed out.

IANS

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