Soon after the third senior medical officer was killed in Lucknow, Rahul Gandhi – or RG as his team calls him – filed an RTI petition to find out how the Mayawati government was distributing cash that’s supposed to be given to pregnant women in hospitals. In reply, the UP government slapped him, and other Congress workers who’d filed similar petitions across the state, with a bill of lakhs of rupees, the supposed cost of printing the reports.
So, does Rahul Gandhi hope to get a report of which women in what village really got the cash, and what was stolen? “Absolutely, 100%. The government will drag its feet, but we’ll get there,” says a Rahul aide.
At the centre of Rahul’s idea of India is Uttar Pradesh, home of nearly 200 million people, a state that’s bigger than most countries, and which crucially, has the largest number of electoral constituencies of the nation. That and a mission to develop a pipeline of new leaders for the Congress party. In many ways, the two goals intersect and overlap.
In March 2007, Rahul had said government-run schools were slowly crumbling, and organisations like the RSS were moving into the vacuum. He was disturbed by this.
To counter Hindutva activism, he wanted to build up a dedicated group of Congress workers, who’d promote the party’s core values among people. The massive membership drive that the party has undertaken, and the elections to Youth Congress units in many states, stem from these core beliefs.
On a typical day recently in his Tughlak Lane residence, which also functions as his office and campaign headquarters, aides armed with laptops pore through spreadsheets in a conference room whose walls are lined with large maps of Uttar Pradesh and Amethi, Rahul’s own constituency. On the door, there’s a sign that reads “Entry Restricted”.
Elections in UP are less than a year away and Team Rahul is working on the list of candidates, who it hopes, can catapult the number of seats won by the Congress ahead of the measly 22 out of 403 in the 2007 assembly election.
But Rahul, insist his aides, isn’t just preparing for elections. “In India’s polity, UP is central in many ways. Think of what can happen if key things like health care and education improve dramatically in the state,” says an aide.
Nevertheless, working for things like, say, polio eradication or establishing an eye-care clinic in his own constituency of Amethi hasn’t been easy – even for Rahul. The default attitude of successive non-Congress regimes in Lucknow has been hostility. “We work under fairly adverse circumstances,” says a colleague of Rahul’s. Economic Times