RAHUL_INSIDE_2951669eEven as he continued his jibes against Prime Minsiter Narendra Modi on price rise — raking up the ‘Arhar Modi’ slogan — Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Friday defended the party’s decision to field veteran leader Sheila Dikshit as its chief ministerial candidate in Uttar Pradesh.

Directly interacting with party workers — 80,000 as per Congress claims — at the Ramabai grounds here, Mr. Gandhi hailed Ms. Dikshit for her “experience” and pitched her nomination as a step towards women empowerment. The Gandhi scion held a microphone and walked around the stage as he answered 50 selected questions from his workers in a bid to secure grassroots feedback.

When asked about the rationale of picking Ms. Dikshit, who has been dismissed by detractors as being too old and carrying baggage of corruption charges, Mr. Gandhi said: “Sheila ji changed the face of Delhi, she brought development. Today the people of Delhi remember the Congress and regret their mistake. They say there used to be work earlier but today there is only drama and speeches, we have MLAs going to jail.”

The youth brings energy but “experience is also necessary,” he said, referring to Ms. Dikshit’s three terms as Delhi CM.

Looking to revive its fortunes its UP, the Congress is relying on glorifying its past tenures in the State. Its campaign theme “27 saal UP Behal,” a reference to the number of years it has been out of power in UP, looks to remind people of the disintegration of the State under the SP, BSP and BJP governments. While accusing these parties of fostering caste-based and communal politics, Mr. Gandhi tried to project an inclusive image of the Congress.

“The Congress is coming to change the life of the people of UP. We are fighting for full majority,” he said.

One office-bearer wondered how factionalism in the Congress could be controlled. “Through discipline,” was Mr. Gandhi’s reply. “We have given U.P. a new team. We have a target and a direction to resend U.P. to the top spot. Anybody working against this, no matter how big they are, strict action will be taken. We will fight together,” he said, amid loud cheers. He said primacy would be given to karyakartas who toil for the party.

While targeting Mr. Modi on his stance towards the poor and farmers, Mr. Gandhi accused him of working in favour of “three-four industrialists.” “First they tried to snatch away your land, now they are trying to steal the dal off your plates,” Mr. Gandhi said, declaring that his party would launch a movement against price rise and safeguard programmes for the poor. “We will make him [Modi] understand that the people in the country do not believe his false promises.”

This was Mr. Gandhi’s first programme in the U.P. capital after the Congress formed its new team led by State president Raj Babbar.

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