WAYANAD: Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Thursday filed nomination papers for the Lok Sabha elections from Wayanad amid an outpouring of support from thousands on the streets, leading the party to claim it will sweep all 20 seats in Kerala.
Thousands of men and women, and even the young, packed the streets of Wayanad as Rahul Gandhi, accompanied by his sister and Congress General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi, reached the Collector’s office, filed his papers and then held a road show to frenzied slogan shouting by party supporters.
At least three journalists fainted in the heat — and Rahul Gandhi helped people to carry one of them on a stretcher to an ambulance.
Before returning to Kozhikode, he explained that his decision to contest from Wayanad — a backward district in Kerala bordering both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu — was aimed at sending a message that India was one.
He told the media: “I have come to Kerala to send out a message that India is one. I feel there is an assault on all institutions by (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. So I decided I will contest from south India and also from north India.”
Gandhi, who will also be a candidate from his traditional seat Amethi in Uttar Pradesh, accused Modi of ignoring the main issues: lack of jobs and farmers’ plight.
He said he had nothing against Kerala’s ruling Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M).
“I know the CPI-M and Congress are locked in a fight here and it will go on. But I am not going to say a word about the CPI-M. They will attack me and let them do that.”
On Wednesday night, Gandhi landed at Kozhikode and waved to the thousands waiting outside the airport to take a close look at him.
On Thursday, after seeing huge crowds on the streets, he stopped his vehicle and broke the security cordon to freely mingle with the people. He shook hands with many.
“I am very happy that he lifted me up,” exclaimed a six-year-old girl, whose mother added that they had been waiting from 7 a.m. to see Gandhi.
Wayanad town appeared packed with supporters, many coming from the neighbouring districts of Kozhikode, Malappurram, Kannur and Kasargode.
Present in large numbers were leaders and activists of Congress allies like the Indian Union Muslim League. Many carried party flags and umbrellas in colours of various parties that make up the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF).
The Special Protection Group (SPG) cancelled his planned visit to the Congress office in Wayanad. With the roads in the hilly district mostly narrow, the planned road show took place on a different route.
The Gandhis travelled in an open jeep, accompanied by former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and UDF leaders.
Police personnel found it tough to handle the surging crowds.
“I have seen Indira Gandhi when she came to Kozhikode many years back. Now I am excited that I have seen her grandchildren. I am very happy,” beamed a 78-year-old Muslim woman.
Gandhi will return to Wayanad on April 16 and tour the state the next day. Kerala goes to the polls on April 23 to elect 20 MPs.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala gloated: “It’s going to be a 20-20 victory for the UDF.”
But Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday reiterated that Rahul Gandhi meant to take on the CPI-M and this does not augur well for the Congress.”