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Rahul Gandhi’s campaign pitch for Goa polls: ‘Treat me like family, talk to me’

In Goa for a day, Rahul Gandhi opted to connect more with locals — meeting fishermen, riding pillion on a bike taxi & eating at a roadside joint — striving to step into the realm of a common Goan.

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Mumbai: Rahul Gandhi accepting a red rose from a nun.

Rahul Gandhi stopping by to spend time with roadside fruit and vegetable vendors.

Rahul Gandhi being addressed as ‘Baba Majhea’ (my brother) by a Goan fisherwoman.

Rahul Gandhi relishing traditional Goan food at a roadside eatery with a sloping aluminium and blue tarpaulin roof.

These are some of the photos and visuals that the Congress in Goa has been highlighting on its social media accounts ever since Gandhi visited Goa last week. Less than five months before the state polls, the Congress is trying to project its leader as a member of every quintessential Goan family.

Gandhi was in Goa for a day’s visit on 30 October, close on the heels of Trinamool Congress Party leader Mamata Banerjee’s visit to the state, between 28 and 30 October, and ahead of scheduled visits by Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) Arvind Kejriwal and BJP’s Nitin Gadkari on 1 November.

Aleixo Reginaldo Lourenco, Goa Congress’ working president, told ThePrint that the idea behind the narrative and Gandhi’s agenda in Goa came from the leader himself.

“Rahul Gandhi and his personal core team wanted it this way. They wanted the programme such that he connects with a lot more locals. The interactions were not scripted unlike what some other parties do, but yet he answered each and everyone confidently,” Lourenco, one of the Congress’ last four MLAs in the 40-member Goa assembly, said.

The Congress, which was once a dominant party in Goa, is struggling to gain lost ground this election. In 2017, the Congress had emerged as the single-largest party in the assembly — though short of the halfway mark — but failed to form the government. The BJP cobbled together an alliance of regional parties and staked claim to the Goa government.

‘Treat me like a family member’

This time, besides an aggressive BJP, the Congress also faces threat from the Trinamool
Congress, which is putting all its weight behind contesting the 2022 Goa polls, projecting West Bengal CM Banerjee as the only one who can take on the BJP, having defeated the party in her home state.

While campaigning in Goa, leaders from Banerjee’s party as well as the Bengal CM herself have tried to build her narrative as a street fighter and a symbol of women empowerment.

The Congress, meanwhile, is attempting to project Gandhi as someone with whom every Goan can connect. To counter Trinamool’s tag line of ‘Goenchi Navi Sakal,’ (Goa’s new dawn), Congress announced Gandhi’s visit with the tag line, ‘Goyankarancha haatat Goycha Phudar,’ (the future of Goa is in the hands of Goans).

Before Gandhi’s visit, young Congress workers recorded short video bytes of Goa’s fishermen saying they were happy that Gandhi was visiting and were looking forward to sharing their woes with him.

While in Goa, Gandhi had scheduled interactions with members of the fishing community at Velsao village in South Goa and people affected by the mining ban at Bambolim.

Interacting with fishermen, Gandhi had said, “Treat me like a family member. Tell me exactly what you want me to hear so that I know what your issues are.”

The Congress also publicised how Gandhi readily accepted an invitation from a fisherman in Velsao to visit his house and see for himself the “inconvenience that a proposed double tracking (rail) project cause him and his neighbours”, and how Gandhi rode pillion on a motorcycle taxi in Goa.

On its social media handles, the Congress also posted a video of a fisherman calling Gandhi “handsome,” with the party saying “Rahul Gandhi wins the hearts of Goans not just for his humility, but his good looks too”.

‘Congress leadership taking more interest this election’

Sources in the Goa Congress say the party leadership in Delhi is taking the election in Goa, India’s smallest state, much more seriously than in the previous years.

Party leaders said, there is a lot more canvassing happening on the ground. Gandhi is likely to visit Goa again next month, and there is a possibility of Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra coming down to campaign too, leaders said.

“Before the 2017 election, he had come just once for a rally. You could sense that there was a certain carefree attitude at that time, but this time we can see a big difference in his attitude for the Goa election,” said a Congress leader in Goa who didn’t want to be named.

In a meeting of party leaders in Delhi in September, Gandhi had directed party leaders in Goa to launch an “aggressive campaign” against the BJP this time.

(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)

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