Lucknow: Reaching out to the people of Uttar Pradesh (UP) ahead of the 2017 Assembly election, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Friday charged his political opponents with "paying lip service" to the state and asserted Sheila Dikshit was "highly experienced" to change UP's face.
A day after lobbing "arhar (lintel) Modi" jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi over spiralling prices in the country,
Rahul held his maiden interaction 'UP Udghosh' with party's district, block and booth level workers and responded to their random questions, an idea mooted by poll strategist Prashant Kishor.
"Various parties have come to power in UP during the last 27 years. Some made people fight on Hindu-Muslim lines...but none talked about the state's development. There was a time when UP was in the forefront. It will once again take the number one slot," he said.
In a no-holds-barred attack on his rivals, Rahul said Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party, dominant parties in the state, have indulged in "politics of lying".
"Congress is one party that does not believe in pitting one person against another for narrow political gains," he said as he interacted with the audience.
On being asked about the incidents of Dalit atrocity, the Congress leader said the weaker sections were suppressed all over the country, be it in Gujarat, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh.
"Wherever atrocities have been committed on Dalits, I have rushed to those places as Congress always stands for Dalits, farmers, minorities and tribals," he said.
To a question whether Dikshit was fit enough to be projected as Congress's chief ministerial candidate, he said she has vast experience. "Sheila has changed the face of Delhi. People in Delhi repent the mistake they did by voting for a party which is more interested in doing drama and no work," he said.
Rahul voiced confidence that his party will come to power in the state for which, he said, Congress workers should make people aware of the party's policies and programmes by staying united and transcending barriers of "groupism and petty rivalry".
Posters with slogan "27 saal, UP behaal" dotted the city's thoroughfares while welcome arches were set up on the road from the airport to the venue -- Rama Bai ground -- where a massive ramp was erected for the Congress vice president to interact with a large audience.
This was the first major interactive session of Rahul after he along with Congress President Sonia Gandhi launched the party's election campaign by flagging of the "27 saal, UP behaal" yatra earlier this month from New Delhi.
Congress is in political wilderness for nearly three decades in the state following the emergence of divisive
'Mandal-Mandir' politics and rise of the BSP, which took away its crucial Dalit vote base.
Friday's interaction was aimed at reviving the party's electoral fortunes ahead of the crucial 2017 Assembly polls.
The party had secured just two seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections with Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi emerging victorious from their family strongholds of Rae Bareli and Amethi, respectively.
Congress is trying to regain its lost moorings in the state where it currently has only 29 Member of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) in the 403-member Assembly.
Mayawati's BSP had also lured a large chunk of Brahmin votes in the past when candidates of the community were given tickets by her to contest elections.
The Brahmin community plays a significant role in poll outcome in central and eastern UP as it is the dominant caste there.
Once a traditional vote bank of the Congress, Brahmins in the state shifted allegiance to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the aftermath of the emergence of 'Mandal-Mandir' politics.
The party chose Sheila Dikshit, a Brahmin, as its chief ministerial face apparently with an eye on the electorally sizeable community.
Born in a Punjabi Khatri family, Dikshit, 78, is the daughter-in-law of late Congress veteran from UP Uma Shankar Dikshit, a tall Brahmin leader who had served as a Union minister and governor for a long time.
Her 15-year tenure in Delhi as chief minister ended with the emergence of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in 2013 polls in which Congress lost power.