Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s address at the ‘Jan Akansha Rally’ at Patna’s historic Gandhi Maidan, witness to many political battles, on Sunday, February 3 is being keenly watched by political observers. This is the first time in 28 years that the Congress is hosting a political rally at the Gandhi Maidan, say some observers even as others have contested the claim and held that the then Congress Prime Minister Narasimha Rao had addressed an election rally in 1996.
In any case, the significance of the rally on the eve of general election is not lost on anyone. And the Congress does appear to have pulled out all stops in ensuring the success of the rally. While Patna itself has been plastered with hoardings and posters, party sources claimed that arrangements were being made to host several lakh people in the rally.
The hoardings and posters make it clear that the focus of the rally is the general election. Not surprisingly, the target is the Prime Minister. One of the colourful hoardings reads, “Ummido par chala hathoda, yuva tal raha pakoda (Aspirations have been crushed, even as youth fry pakodas for a living). Another read, “Chowkidar ho gaya manmauji, seema par shahid ho rahe hain fauji’ (The chowkidar continues to fiddle/ lives of martyrs count for little).
The excitement has rubbed off on the Congress headquarters known as Sadaquat Ashram next to the river Ganges. The riverbed is partially dry and the mainstream has moved away. But the Congress headquarters, which had largely been deserted and worn a forlorn look since Congress lost power in the state in 1989 to Janata Dal led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, appears to have woken up from slumber. Ironically, three decades later Congress is likely to align with Lalu Prasad Yadav’s Rashtriya Janata Dal in the general election.
A visit to the Congress headquarters earlier this week, however, showed not much sign of activity at 10 am in the morning. A few vehicles and e-rickshaws with posters were indeed parked as the double-storied building was being cleaned up
AICC in-charge of Bihar, Shaktisinh Gohil, has been camping in Patna to coordinate and oversee preparations.
Dilip Kumar, an ex-employee was basking in the sun on the premises and informed that leaders and workers would start arriving by 11 am or so. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, he points out, had addressed several rallies at Gandhi Maidan but on each occasion, they were invited speakers, guests at rallies hosted by Lalu Prasad. The role is now being reversed with Congress organizing a rally and inviting RJD and other opposition leaders to address it.
A few metres away from the Congress office, an old man with face full of wrinkles, Ramdeo Tiwari, stood by the roadside. He had heard of Rahul Gandhi’s rally and planned to attend it. “If Rahulji comes to power, ‘swach vatavaran’ (clean ecosystem) will be created and days like Indira Gandhi’s will be back,” the frail man said with a glint in his eyes.
At the Hindustan Petroleum’s fuel station nearby, pump attendant Om Prakash hoped that Rahul would usher in real “achche din”. “Modi bahar bahar hi ghumte rahte hain. Bihar mein kuch kaam nahi karte hain. Rahul Gandhi ko sunne jaroor jayenge (Modi is always travelling abroad. He is doing no work in Bihar. Will surely go to listen to Rahul Gandhi’s speech).
Across Sadaquat Ashram’s gate, three young men were engaged in an animated conversation. Sushant Kumar claimed to be a RJD supporter. “If Tejashwi Yadav (Lalu Prasad’s son and leader of the opposition in Bihar) attends the rally, I shall go to attend it,” he declares. His friend, Suraj Kumar, a driver, nods in agreement. A few kilometres away, at Rajapur, an e-rickshaw driver Dheeraj Kumar agrees that there was curiosity about the rally and he would like to hear what the Congress President had to say.
At the buzzing Income-Tax roundabout – hoardings, banners and posters make a pitch for change, put in slightly differently: Waqt hai badlav ka (It’s time for change), ek kadam parivartan ki ore (one step towards change), sankalp parivartan ka (vow for change). “Kaho dil se, Congress phir se”, “Chalo chalen, Rahul ko sune,” they exhort people. Similar hoardings, banners and festoons dot other parts of the city as well.
Roadshows and street corner meetings have generated some hype in Patna and expectations are high. Some people, however, grumbled and said that they would like to see Rahul Gandhi raise newer issues and not harp on just Rafale. Others felt it was important that he changed the narrative and offered a positive vision.
In the election in 2014, Congress had won just two out of 40 Lok Sabha seats in Bihar while RJD had won four. Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) headed by Upendra Kushwaha, which was a part of the NDA then, had won three seats but has thrown its lot with the opposition this time.