In Kerala, the Congress is unleashing the 'Rahul effect' as campaigning for the April 6 Assembly polls peak. With the trends suggesting no strong anti-incumbency sentiment and opinion surveys predicting another term for the CPM-led Left Democratic Front (LDF), the Congress is pinning its hopes on Rahul Gandhi's crowd-pulling ability to make a late surge.
The strategy is to take the national leader to as many constituencies as possible. Unlike the previous elections, where star campaigners like him used to fly from one venue to the other in rented helicopters, this time Rahul is seen touring from one constituency to the other by road and attending wayside and corner meetings.
Wherever he goes, large crowds wait for him, waving the Congress flags, raising placards and shouting slogans.
On Tuesday, Rahul covered several constituencies in Kottayam and Ernakulam districts, including party veteran Oommen Chandy's Puthuppally.
His programmes started with a public meeting at Paruthumpara. From there, he was on a whirlwind tour stopping at Manarcaud, Ponkunnam, Pala, Uzhavoor, Piravom, Muvattupuzha, Perumbavoor and Kalady.
While these were the scheduled stops, there were several unscheduled stops where Rahul took a halt to greet the people waiting to see him.
A video of his interaction with Annamma and Ailikuttiyamma, two elderly women in Kottayam, has already gone viral. At Kakkoor in Piravom constituency, he stopped to visit a group of martial arts students.
Earlier at Paruthumpara in Kottayam, Rahul invited Agnes Rose, a 10-year-old girl, to the dais.
He said Agnes is a symbol of all the girls in Kerala. “I'm concerned about her future. When she grows up, she would be able to live here only if she follows a certain ideology or politics. That's the RSS and the CPM's agenda. Only the Congress facilitates the opportunity for her to live the way she wants,” he said.
Everywhere he spoke, Rahul gave great importance to the Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), his pet project assuring minimum income guarantee, which could not be implemented as Congress failed to come to power at the Centre in 2019.
In Kerala, NYAY – the scheme ensuring Rs 72,000 direct transfer to the poorest in a year – is at the centre of the Congress-led United Democratic Front's (UDF) manifesto.
“One thing I want to tell you, if our government comes to power, we will put money directly into your pockets,” Rahul said at the beginning of his speeches. He went on to explain how the scheme would spur spending and thus more production and job creation. “This is not any service or gift. It's your right,” he told the crowds that had been waiting for him, under the sun at some spots and late into the night in other places.
At Pala, where he campaigned for Mani C Kappen, Rahul likened Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to a driver who tries to start a car without fuel.
He was referring to the economic crisis the state is facing.
Rahul did not mention the corruption charges against the state government. The point he wanted to stress that the Pinarayi Vijayan government was not humane enough.
He cited Pinarayi Vijayan's reluctance to visit the agitating PSC rank holders in Thiruvananthapuram.
“If a chief minister belonging to the Congress was there, he must have visited the protesters, no matter whether they would be angry at him,” Rahul told the cheering crowds.
As usual, Rahul minced no words in attacking the Narendra Modi government at the Centre. He raked up the ill-effects of demonetisation and GST implementation on the economy.
Another common theme in his speeches was the social harmony in Kerala and the need to preserve it. In Pala, he narrated an anecdote about a multi-speciality hospital owner in the Gulf telling him that the reason for the success of the hospital was the Keralite nurses working there.
“The nurses from Kerala are only concerned about a patient's pain, not his caste or religion,” he said.
He also stressed the UDF's promise to ensure Rs 250 per kg as the minimum support price for rubber as he toured Kottayam and Ernakulam. Rubber is a prominent crop in these regions.
In Pala, Rahul made a reference to Kappen's former stint as a volleyball player. “Our opponents will not be able to face his services and his smashes,” he said. Though the content of his speech remained almost the same throughout the rally, such candidate-specific improvisations were done at places where he spoke at length.
In Piravom and Muvattupuzha, he highlighted the 55 per cent representation of youth in the Congress's candidates' list.
While AICC general secretary and Rahul's confidant K C Venugopal translated his speech everywhere, in Muvattupuzha, the task was given to the candidate, Mathew Kuzhalnadan.
Priyanka in North?
While Rahul has almost completed his central Kerala tour and is likely to cover the southern parts in the next phase of his campaign, his sister and AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi is likely to tour northern Kerala, a source said.