New Delhi: It was meant to be Rahul Gandhi’s big-bang launch of the Uttar Pradesh assembly election campaign, but the first public meeting the Congress vice-president addressed on Tuesday attracted scorn for visuals of people carrying home cots the party had put up to seat the attendees.

The Congress party had planned khaat sabhas, in which khaats (traditional cots) are put out for the gathering to sit, as an innovative way to boost the party’s farmer outreach. It is part of the party’s larger campaign in Uttar Pradesh, where it has promised to fight for loan waivers and better minimum support price for agricultural produce (MSP). However, the launch of the campaign, which is supposed to cover 2,500 km, faced an unexpected glitch in strategy and planning.

On Tuesday, Gandhi kickstarted his Kisan Yatra from Pachaldi Kritpura village in UP’s Deoria district. The launch of the door-to-campaign, two khaat sabhas and one roadshow was planned for the day. At one khaat sabha, Gandhi addressed the crowd for a little over seven minutes, with several party supporters attending. Soon after the speech, several people who attended the meeting were seen leaving the venue with the khaats; many took them home on motorcycles.

Congress’ campaign in Uttar Pradesh is being handled by poll strategist Prashant Kishor and his team.

Also read: UP polls: Rahul Gandhi holds ‘khaat sabhas’ with farmers, promises loan waiver

In defence, senior Congress leaders said the development was being wrongly projected and that no one would have a problem with villagers taking cots away.

“We don’t see what is so wrong or problematic in this," a senior Congress leader from Uttar Pradesh said, requesting anonymity. “People who took the cots away were residents of nearby villages; they are all very dear to the Congress party. If they needed it and they are happy with it, we see nothing wrong in them taking it away. (UP chief minister) Akhilesh Yadav promised laptops but there is no electricity; at least, the cots may be more useful for them," he said.

Congress leaders estimated the party got nearly 2,500 cots for Tuesday’s sabha, which would have cost at least 500 each. When asked if the party could afford bad publicity at this stage when it is launching a high-voltage campaign, another leader from the state added: “To be honest, no master planner could have foreseen a situation like this where people who attended a rally took away the cots. We don’t see it as bad publicity; each one has his own viewpoint. Some may see it as overshadowing our campaign but we see it as people taking away something they were in need of."

Earlier in the day, Gandhi, while addressing the crowd attacked both incumbent Samajwadi Party (SP) in the state and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at the Centre for not doing enough for farmers and labourers.

“Both the Centre and state governments have forgotten the farmers and labourers. They have not done anything about your problems and your sorrows but we will. Neither have they done anything for you, nor have they given any assurance. We are not in power either at Centre or in Uttar Pradesh, but we promise you we share your sorrow and we are going to fight for your rights with you," Gandhi told the crowd.