Congress president Rahul Gandhi struck a chord with the voters in Wayanad, the second constituency he is contesting from in the Lok Sabha election, by hinting that he will retain the seat even if he wins from Amethi in Uttar Pradesh.
Clearing speculations rife across the country that he will abandon the southern seat if he wins from the North Indian constituency, the Gandhi scion said in his first election rally in the constituency that he will be with them to solve the issues they are facing.
Rahul spoke about the developmental issues faced by the remote district's people and promised to help in resolving the same. He specifically talked about the Wayanad people's demand for better roads, health infrastructure, including a new medical college, and the serious problems faced by the tourism and hospitality trade on account of restrictions imposed in connection with the conservation efforts in the Bandipur tiger reserve.
The St Mary's ground in Sulthan Bathery, where Rahul addressed an overly enthusiastic crowd, was overflowing with people and the spontaneity of their participation was palpable. It is the same ground where his grandmother Indira Gandhi, father Rajiv Gandhi and mother Sonia Gandhi had addressed election campaign meetings in the past.
"I decided to contest from south India to make a point that the voice of the south is as 'important' as rest of the country," Rahul said. He added that the decision to contest from Wayanad was prompted by the fact that it was a 'beautiful place', symbolising different ideas, cultures and that the rest of the country can learn from Kerala and Wayanad.
"I'm not like PM of India, I'll not come here and lie to you because I respect your intelligence, wisdom and understanding," he said. "I don't want to have a relationship of just few months. I want a lifelong relationship with you. I want the sisters of Wayanad to say that I am like their brother, fathers and mothers to say that I am their son," he said.
The Congress president reached the venue after performing shradham (a Hindu ritual for the dead) at the famous Papanasini temple in Thirunelli, where the ashes of his late father had been immersed in a stream deep inside the dense woods. As the name suggests, a dip in the stream is believed to be capable of washing off one's sins.
Rahul performed the ritual for seven generations of his forefathers as well as the martyrs of Pulwama attack, delivering a symbolic message of peace and unity as an answer to the controversial remark by BJP chief Amit Shah, comparing Wayanad to Pakistan on account of the similarity of Muslim League flags with those of that country.
The Congress president highlighted the fact that Wayanad stood for tolerance and unity and had never experienced communal strife, irrespective of such imputations by saffron elements. It was such a track record of the place that prompted him to choose the seat.
Rahul said he considered it an honour to contest from Wayanad, which implied a message of recognition of the importance of south India in the nationhood. "The voice, language, culture and feelings of the people of South India are no less important than those of anybody else," he declared, hinting at the increasing intolerance shown by the Sangh Parivar towards values and cultures that do not align with their own.
"I've not come here as a politician who is going to tell you what to do or what I think. I'm not here to tell you my 'mann ki baat', I'm here to understand what is inside your heart, your soul," he said, and promised that his association with Wayanad would be a life-long affair.
The Congress president paid back to the prime minister in the same coin that Modi had done. In an obvious reference to the charge that Congress was siding with anti-national elements, he accused Narendra Modi of "dividing India and making it fight within itself". By bringing economic misery to the people, Modi had become an anti-national, he said. Similarly, by encouraging corruption, the prime minister was acting against the interest of the nation, he further alleged.
"His biggest anti-national act is of course creating a situation where 27,000 youngsters are losing their job every 24 hours," he said.
Rahul's presence has no doubt created a new wave of enthusiasm among the Congress and UDF circles. But all that has not deterred P Suneer, the Congress president's closest rival, from exuding confidence. Suneer, who is contesting for LDF on the CPI ticket, even claims that Wayanad will be Rahul Gandhi's Waterloo, although very few agree with his view.
Suneer believes he has a few tricks up his sleeves that will give Congressmen a shock. His election campaign events are a nondescript affair, keeping in line with the rather low profile presence of Communists in the area, despite his importance in the CPI setup. But he believes that when it comes to the crunch, there are undercurrents that will turn to his advantage.
Suneer belongs to the dominant Muslim community and he hopes to polarise votes in his favour, especially in view of a certain consolidation of Muslim votes in the wake of the diatribe by Amit Shah and Modi over the composition of Wayanad's electorate. Amit Shah's 'green virus' charge has not gone down well with the community, which may want to give BJP a spirited response.
As a first choice, such votes should go in favour of Rahul, who is seen as the run-away victor, but the Communists have tried hard to create the impression that the credentials of local Congress in fighting BJP are suspect. This, they believe, will help Suneer.
BJP candidate Thushar Vellappally, whom Amit Shah hand-picked to face Rahul Gandhi, is capable of putting up only a symbolic fight. Thushar was widely expected to contest from Thrissur and had even started the groundwork for the campaign in the constituency. But with Rahul picking Wayanad as his second constituency, the BJP central leadership suddenly realigned its strategy.
With Rahul entering the fray, the contest in Wayanad may just turn out to be a one-way affair, with everybody in the rival camp trying only to reduce his victory margin.