NEW DELHI -- Riding the wave of Congress Party's revival in the Bihar election, Rahul Gandhi kicked off his kisan padyatra (farmer's march) in Uttar Pradesh today, widely regarded as the opening act for the 2017 state election.
While interacting with farmers in Saharanpur, Gandhi taunted Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his frequent travel abroad, and he also chided Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav for failing to fulfil his promise of "transforming UP."
"We are walking for the farmers, but Modi ji and Akhilesh ji are not listening to farmers," he said. "For me, every Indian - Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian, of any caste, man or women, are the same. I don't do the job of dividing people, I unite them."
Eyebrows were raised at Gandhi sharing the stage with Imran Masood, a local Congress Party leader, who was arrested on charges of hate speech after he threatened to “chop Modi into pieces," last year.
Masood apologised after his party distanced itself and some leaders including Gandhi condemned his remark.
The Congress Party was part of the Grand Alliance along with Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), which handed a huge defeat to the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Bihar election, earlier this month. It isn't clear yet whether the Congress Party will tackle the U.P. election on its own or it plans on aligning with regional powers.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP decimated the ruling Samajvadi Party, which won five seats, and the Congress Party, which managed to keep two seats belonging to Gandhi and his mother, Sonia Gandhi.
In the 2012 State Assembly election, SP won 224 seats, followed by the Bahujan Samaj Party with 80, the BJP with 47 seats, and then the Congress Party trailing with 28.
Gandhi often criticises Modi for his clothes and foreign trips, but today he also attacked the prime minister's penchant for taking selfies. "Have you ever seen Modi ji take a selfie with farmer, a labourer or an unemployed person," he said.
Gandhi also said that Modi's promise of "acche din" had become a joke in the country.
On state affairs, he urged the Chief Minister to provide youths with jobs and sugarcane farmers with compensation. "Akhilesh Yadav ji you claimed to belong to the new generation and promised to change Uttar Pradesh. You still have one-and-a-half years to change Uttar Pradesh," he said.
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