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Rahul in Blunderland

Rahul Gandhi's predilection to shoot from the hip is proving to be a challenge for his party managers who have found themselves picking up repeatedly after the First Family heir. Yet in Uttar Pradesh recently, the gaffe-prone Congress general secretary — famously described by an American official as a “neophyte” without the chutzpah to become Prime Minister — outdid himself. The agitation by farmers protesting over land acquisition along the Yamuna Expressway was already into its second week, when Mr. Gandhi grandly entered the scene and appropriated what till then had been a united Opposition show. With television cameras obliging, Mr. Gandhi threw off his security and courted arrest — all of which might have passed off as engaging theatrics had he also not proceeded to make the most incredible charge against the Mayawati government: that there were burnt bodies beneath the mounds of ash found in the twin Greater Noida villages of Bhatta and Parsaul! Although Mr. Gandhi said he had photographic evidence to prove his claim, no villager has come forward to substantiate the story that the administration had killed and burnt farmers in full public view. Unsurprisingly, it was once again left to party managers to find a way out of the mess. The new line, endorsed by Mr. Gandhi himself, is that he was merely repeating a charge made by the villagers.

During the 2007 Assembly election campaign in U.P., Mr. Gandhi claimed that the Babri Masjid would have been saved had his family been in power. But an even bigger blooper was when he spoke of the division of Pakistan as a glowing deed accomplished by his family; while nobody can take away from Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's masterly handling of the constellation of events leading to the creation of Bangladesh, to present it as the division of Pakistan and as a family accomplishment was doubly shocking. Tragically for the farmers of U.P., Mr. Gandhi's egregious brinkmanship has deflected attention from their genuine problems. Ground reports clearly point to excesses by the U.P. government in the two affected villages. Even if it was a fact that the agitation had been infiltrated by anti-social elements, as claimed by the Chief Minister, there was absolutely no justification for the police to act brutally against the villagers. The Mayawati government would do well to realise that farmers cannot be arm-twisted anymore into accepting meagre compensation for fertile agricultural land acquired, among other things, for creating luxury villas and townships. For its part, the central government must realise that it must move quickly to put in place comprehensive Land Acquisition legislation that is fair, just, and primarily protective of the interests of millions of vulnerable farmers.

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