Rahul makes surprise midnight visit to Dalit village

May 17th, 2008 - 10:00 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi

Amethi (Uttar Pradesh), May 17 (IANS) After trundling through Uttar Pradesh’s electricity-starved dark countryside, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi made a surprise visit to a predominantly Dalit hamlet in his Amethi parliamentary constituency where some 60 women from half a dozen villages were holding a meet. Though 10 km from Amethi town and some 100 km from Uttar Pradesh capital Lucknow, the Vanpurwa village he visited presents a stark contrast of poverty.

There is no electricity, the nearest medical help is three km away, the nearest school is two km away, all the houses are built of mud and the entire population is Dalit. There is a sand-and-rubble track leading to the village.

Sitting on the ground discussing future works, the women, part of self-help groups which provide micro-finance under the Rajiv Gandhi Mahila Vikas Pariyojana, stood up as Rahul arrived on the scene late Friday night.

“‘Arey Rahulbhaiya aaye’ (Hey, brother Rahul has come), we whispered to one another when he came,” giggled Chatkeela Paasi.

It was like a dream come true for them to have Gandhi among them, sharing their dinner.

“He asked us what difference the self-help group project had made in our lives,” Sumitra Devi, belonging to the Saroj Self-Help Group, told IANS Saturday.

She told him they now had money for sundry household purchases for which they had to depend on private moneylenders earlier. “It has made a big difference not only in our incomes but also in our confidence levels,” she said.

Rahul’s explanation to them about the need to unite to assert their rights went down well with the women.

“We told him about non-implementation of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and similar government schemes,” Chatkeela said.

“To this, he made a pertinent point. He said ‘if you go to the district government officials in twos and threes, it won’t move them. But if you go in a group of 100, things would move’,” she said.

The women, who had never seen a national leader so close to them, were overwhelmed. Rahul sat on the ground just like them, chatted with them and shared their food.

“What could we do, we could not make arrangements for a table and a chair for him. We never knew he was coming,” Sumitra said.

“But he didn’t seem to mind at all,” said Lakhpati Paasi, who was happy that the meeting with Gandhi was just outside her hut in the village square.

Gandhi’s late night visit to this village, as similar visits earlier, was kept a closely guarded secret. A solitary media car that had waited for him to stir out of a guest house in Munshiganj town was neatly hoodwinked. He had stayed in the guest house the previous night as he started a two-day tour of his constituency.

Mediapersons in the car, aware that they could not capture live the Gandhi scion’s surprise village visit, pursued his cavalcade. But the cars smartly split into three directions from a crossroads with none but the security personnel knowing in which vehicle Gandhi was sitting.

It took several hours Saturday for the mediapersons to find out the village the Congress general secretary had gone to.

“It is because of the media that we could not eat in the afternoon on time today,” laughed Chatkeela Paasi.

In recent months, Gandhi, son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi, has been making unannounced visits to villages with pre-dominantly Dalit populations.

He had stayed for the night at a Dalit home in the Amethi constituency earlier and had dinner with them. Later, he went to the home of another Dalit in the state’s drought-affected Bundelkhand region.

Rattled by his forays among the Dalits, her core constituency, Chief Minister Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had said Gandhi washed his hands with a “special soap” after dining with a Scheduled Caste family and called his trips a farce.

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