- Rahul Gandhi launches election campaign tour of Congress in Uttar Pradesh
- 2,500-km journey will start from Deoria in east UP and end in Delhi
- 'Khaat (cot) Sabhas' are part of outreach to woo farmers
The Congress vice president's meeting with farmers and an address to them had barely ended, when locals were seen walking away with the brand new cots that had been laid out by his party. About 2,000 of them.
It began with a raid of eatables and bottled water stored in a tent. A few people then picked up some cots and the crowds followed. Soon, only a few cots made of iron were left on the vast ground - they were too heavy to lift.
The khaat sabha - an innovative take on village meetings where elders deliberate on important matters seated on cots fashioned out of rope and wood - marked the beginning of Mr Gandhi's farmer-focused month-long yatra or tour of UP, where crucial elections will be held early next year.
Mr Gandhi began his campaign predictably with an attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi who he accused of having "forgotten farmers".
He began his 2,500-km journey from Deoria in eastern UP and aims to cover 223 of Uttar Pradesh's 403 assembly constituencies. The massive public outreach will see Mr Gandhi stopping in villages for close interactions with farmers as he collects a charter of farmers' demands. He will also hold road shows.
Critics see shades of PM Modi's popular Chai Pe Charcha campaign from the 2014 national election in Mr Gandhi's outreach programme. They have been scripted by the same man - election strategist Prashant Kishor, who is planning the UP campaign for the Congress, which has announced Sheila Dikshit, 78, as its presumptive chief minister.
The UP election is being seen as a test before the national election in 2019, and the BJP is making an equally determined bid to win the state.