Miliband’s night out with Rahul - in a Dalit home (Lead)

January 15th, 2009 - 5:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Amethi (Uttar Pradesh), Jan 15 (IANS) British Foreign Secretary David Miliband got a flavour of bucolic India - a thatched hut and a rope cot to sleep in with cattle grazing in the backyard - when he and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi spent Wednesday night in a village here. The two leaders reached Amethi, about 80 km from the state capital Lucknow, for a two-day visit Wednesday, and retired for the night after attending a non-formal panchayat in Semra village for about three-and-a-half hours.

Milliband evinced keen interest in the problems of the farmers as Gandhi, who represents Amethi in the Lok Sabha, played interpreter on the cold January night.

Miliband went to the house of a Dalit woman Karma and slept on her cot while Gandhi went to the adjoining house of another Dalit, Shiv Kumari, for the night after a spartan meal, a young Congress leader accompanying the two leaders said.

Shiv Kumari, who lives in the hut with three children, said she was speechless when she found Rahul and an ‘angrez’ (Englishman) at her doorstep late in the night.

“They came to my hut at night after 11.30 p.m. and asked humbly whether they could spend a night at my hut,” the overwhelmed 42-year-old told reporters.

Miliband, she said, was most interested in asking questions related to technological developments, the status of education in the village and challenges facing the people.

“During our interaction, Rahul acted as a translator,” she said.

At about 1 a.m., Miliband went next door to Karma’s house and met farmers, asking questions about agricultural technologies before going to sleep, locals said.

It was a sleepless night for Shiv Kumari.

“Their presence kept me awake all night as I thought they could need water or food anytime,” she said, adding that they had the dinner they had brought with them.

“Although every arrangement was made for their stay at the Munshiganj guest house, they preferred to stay in the village to get a first hand account of rural life,” Uttar Pradesh Congress spokesperson Akhilesh Pratap Singh told IANS.

The two leaders left for the guest house early Thursday, all the while keeping the media at bay.

Before reaching Semra, Gandhi and the 15-member British delegation visited about half-a-dozen mud and brick villages, Akhilesh Pratap Singh said. Reporters crowding Amethi saw them whiz past in a convoy but could not talk to them throughout the day.

The two also visited the Sanjay Gandhi Memorial Hospital and the Indira Gandhi Eye Hospital in Amethi, one name after Rahul Gandhi’s uncle and the other after his grandmother.

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