Phulpur (UP): Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday launched his party's election campaign in Uttar Pradesh by attacking the Mayawati-led BSP government, saying it is corrupt, has siphoned-off central funds and is insensitive to the poor.

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In a symbolic move, Gandhi began his party's poll campaign from Phulpur which was his grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru's Lok Sabha constituency. The day also marks Nehru's 122nd birth anniversary.

"Uttar Pradesh has been going backwards. Nehru was an MP from here...There has been no progress in this state. I have been in politics for seven years. In these years, I have learnt the most from the people of Uttar Pradesh," Gandhi said. Phulpur is about 30 kms from Allahabad.

Attacking the Mayawati government, Gandhi alleged that during his visit to Bundelkhand region of the state a few years ago, he had seen drought and poverty.

"The government in Delhi made MNREGA which says every individual should get work. But in Bundelkhand, it was not the case.... Crores of rupees which we sent vanished....The BSP workers, contractors profited from them while the poor were left gaping," Gandhi said.

He said that Chief Minister Mayawati had not visited Bundelkhand and the economic package for the region which was sent by the Centre was not used for the people.

"I had gone to the Prime Minister and told him there is drought and poverty in the area. He sanctioned a special package of Rs 7,000 crore but the money did not reach the poor," Gandhi said.

He also mentioned Bhatta-Parsaul, saying agitating farmers were fired at by the police. He alleged that the UP government had grabbed their land and women in the area were assaulted during the agitation.

"In Uttar Pradesh, there is corruption everywhere. If you want to lodge an FIR, you have to pay money. If your daughter is assaulted and if you don't have money, then you cannot lodge an FIR," Gandhi said.

He claimed he had got a package of Rs 3,000 crore for weavers of Aligarh but the money did not go into the hands of the people.

"The weavers came to us and said the money you are sending is not reaching us.... So we made changes and the money now goes into the bank accounts of the weavers," he said.

The 40-year-old MP from Amethi said a leader can understand the plight of the poor only when one visits the people and shares meals with them.

"The people of Uttar Pradesh have taught me that to become a leader one has to go to the people.... Till a leader does not eat in a poor man's house, he cannot understand the problems of the poor.... Till he does not get an upset stomach, does not fall ill, he does not understand poverty," Gandhi said.

Stating that Congress was committed to development and was for 'aam aadmi', Gandhi urged the people of the state especially the youths to "vote for change" to usher in development.

"I call upon you to bring about a change in your mindset and vote for a party which is committed to development. How long will you migrate to other states in search of work," he said. Gandhi alleged that for the last 20 years there has been no progress in the state as successive governments have only "cheated" the people and neglected developmental work.

"People of Uttar Pradesh are appreciated for their hard work, wherever they go in search of job. Farmers of Punjab say that they can't carry out agriculture without their help.

"How long will you beg in Maharashtra (for work)? How long will you work as labourer in Punjab? It will take only five years and the change will come. Nothing will change until there is a change in your thinking," Gandhi said.

He alleged large-scale irregularities in mid-day meal programme and in National Rural Health Mission.

"We filed an RTI for information about funds utilised under NRHM and found gross irregularities committed in disbursement of funds," he said.

Gandhi said the UPA government will table the Food Security Bill and the Lokpal Bill in the Winter Session of the Parliament as it was concerned about corruption in the country.

Rahul remark: BJP, Cong in war of words

Rahul Gandhi's comment on migration of people from UP on Monday triggered a political controversy with BJP terming it as an "insult" to the people of the state while Congress hit back saying the opposition party's very existence is "derogatory to the nation".

"This is an insult to the people of Uttar Pradesh. How many times Rahul Gandhi has gone to Maharashtra and has seen people from UP and Bihar begging there. He has hurt the sentiments of the people of UP.... I have never seen a person from UP and Bihar begging in Maharashtra," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said.

When pointed out that the BJP feels that the terms used by Gandhi were "derogatory", Congress spokesperson Renuka Chaudhary shot back, "BJP itself is derogatory to the nation, to the secular credential of the country... BJP can understand insult only if it can understand honour... They better look in their own backyard than pointing fingers at others."

The war of words between the ruling and the Opposition party began after Gandhi, while kicking off his party's political campaign from Phulpur on Monday, said, "people of Uttar Pradesh are appreciated for their hard work, wherever they go in search of job....How long will you beg in Maharashtra (for work)? How long will you work as labourer in Punjab?...."

He also accused Mayawati government of being corrupt, having siphoned-off central funds and being insensitive to the poor.

AICC general secretary and media department chief Janardan Dwivedi, however, dismissed BJP's reaction to Gandhi's remarks saying their comments show that they are panicky over the rise of Congress in the state.

Dwivedi said, "the reaction of Opposition parties to what Rahul has said proves the impact of his words. It is evident from the panic of the Opposition that they have now begun fearing the rise of Congress in UP."

He said that what Gandhi said was clearly linked to the state's self-pride (swabhimaan).

"How can this be called an insult? If somebody says that people of his state should not be roaming around here and there in search of livelihood," the AICC leader wondered.

Echoing similar views, Chaudhary also said that Gandhi must have made the remarks to "awaken" the self-pride of "his people" in Uttar Pradesh with whom he shares a "special bond and a relationship of affection".

To repeated questions on the issue, Chaudhary disapproved of singling out one particular word from a full speech saying the context in which Gandhi made the remarks needs to be understood properly.

(JPN/ Agencies)