Thousands of people in the Lalbagh maidan of Jagdalpur in Bastar district of Chhattisgarh chanted “chowkidaar hi chor hai” as Congress chief Rahul Gandhi launched a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of the first phase of state Assembly elections on November 12.
Interestingly, the Gandhi scion’s rally on Saturday managed to pull more crowds than PM Modi’s public meeting just a day before. “PM Modi’s rally did not have a good turnout yesterday so I bought less milk today. But surprisingly, there are more people here than Friday. Even Congress cadre and senior leaders were surprised about it,” claimed Mannu Pal, owner of a popular tea shop outside Jagdalpur’s Lalbagh maidan.
While Congress leader Manohar Lunia claimed there were no more than 10,000 people in PM Modi's rally on Friday, sources in the police department told 101reporters that over 20,000 people marked their presence. On Saturday, however, 23,000 people were in attendance to attend Rahul Gandhi’s rally.
Senior Jagdalpur-based journalist SK Hasan Raza believed that there was a pertinent reason why more people attended the Congress rally. "Bastar has always been Congress bastion. Plus, Congress’s manifesto attracted farmers and youths of the state—especially Bastar, where people want to get rid of the conflict and other issues," he said adding that the anti-incumbency factor against BJP, which has been in power for 15 years, also worked in Congress’s favour.
Scores of people from the neighbouring villages like Biringpal, Karkapal, and Malgaon travelled to the venue in trucks to Lalbagh Maidan. Chintamani, 55, a female Congress supporter from Malgaon—which falls under the Jagdalpur Vidhan Sabha—said she attended the rally to see how Rahul Gandhi looks in real life. “I had seen Indira Gandhi in my childhood and Rajiv Gandhi when I was young. I wanted to see Rahul Gandhi. Around 25 people from my village came here today to see and listen to him,” she said.
Another Congress supporter Sanju Kawar, 27, even took out a motorcycle rally before Gandhi’s arrival with nearly 40 motorcyclists. “The rally is for change and the youth will do their best to bring Congress to the power so that they create jobs for youngsters like me,” said Sanju, who is currently unemployed.
The people of the Jagdalpur constituency are miffed with the sitting BJP MLA Santosh Kumar Bafna due to his negligence towards development projects. Areas like Aman Nagar and Biringpal have announced to boycott the elections over the zero development work. Being the divisional headquarters of Bastar, Jagdalpur also faces a severe health and education crisis.
Gandhi slammed PM Modi over his “urban Maoist” swipe made at Congress a day earlier. “Congress workers have sacrificed their lives for Bastar and the PM should stop insulting them,” he said amid thunderous applause. “We always gave them (BJP and Prime Minister) respect but they insulted our party cadre who were killed in the Naxal attack.”
“The PM and BJP should stop teaching deshbhakti to Congress and instead tell the country that why the Rafale contract was given to Anil Ambani who has no qualification or experience in making fighter aircraft,” Gandhi said.
The Congress chief also promised that his party would waive farmers’ loans within 10 days of forming a government if voted to power. “Bonus will be given to farmers for their produce and food processing plants will be set up in all districts where farmers’ children will get employment,” he said to the cheering crowd.
Congress has a very good hold in the 12 Vidhan Sabha seats of the Bastar division. During the 2013 Assembly elections, the grand old party was able to win eight seats and lost the Jagdalpur seat to BJP’s Santosh Bafna by 17,000 votes.
As per the 2017 voter list, there are 1,86,898 electorates and 234 polling stations in this constituency. Voter turnout in the 2013 election was 73.61% whereas it was 69.74% in 2014 Lok Sabha Elections.
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