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Rahul’s visit incredible: Dalit villagers
Published on 1 Oct. 2009 11:56 PM IST
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He bathed in the open, drew water from a hand-pump and ate their meals. A week after his unexpected forays into Uttar Pradesh’s impoverished hinterland, Dalit villagers who saw Rahul Gandhi at their doorstep are still incredulous about it and say his visit will remain etched in their memories. Dalits, often the poorest and the most exploited in India’s caste-dominated villages societies, can’t believe that the influential politician really came to their poor homes, talked and broke bread with them -- even spending a night on a string cot under the open sky in the little village of Rampur-Deogan in Shravasti district, about 250 km from Lucknow. And for one used to comforts, the 38-year-old son of Congress president Sonia Gandhi even bathed in the open, drawing water from a hand-operated water pump. “It was incredible. We rarely get to see the face of the local MLA (legislator) whom we have elected. Therefore a visit by someone like Rahul Gandhi will always remain etched in our memories,” Chedda Pasi, son of the Rampur-Deogan village head, told a visiting IANS correspondent. “And we are in a village where not everyone has two meals through the day,” Pasi pointed out. The last time any VIP was in the village, which is yet to get electricity, was 12 years ago. That was Arif Mohammad Khan. Pasi insisted that the impromptu visit would have been the best learning experience for Gandhi. Gandhi’s journey, aimed at understanding the ways the poor live across India, was the most significant trip by the Congress MP to any place outside of Amethi and Rae Bareli -- his and his mother’s constituencies. “It is heartening to know that he is now stepping out of the confines of Amethi and Rae Bareli,” Radhey Lal, a former village head of Dawood Nagar, about 25 km from Lucknow, told IANS. “We hope he visits us too one day.” But the administration in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state with 160 million people headed by Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief and Dalit leader Mayawati, is not impressed. In contrast to Gandhi, many of even those who voted for the BSP feel that the chief minister has become virtually inaccessible to people at large. The young Gandhi bypassed all security and protocol to walk quietly into the village in eastern Uttar Pradesh, prompting state authorities to accuse him of breaching VIP security rules and protocol. Mayawati called the visit a “drama”. On an earlier occasion, she had alleged that Gandhi took a bath with a special soap after eating at the home of any Dalit. But none of the criticism seems to have any impact on the villagers, overwhelmed by Gandhi’s gesture. Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi, who had no idea about Gandhi’s unannounced visit as the government, says he is not just India’s youth icon but an “icon of the downtrodden and the poor”. “This has become Mayawati’s biggest worry,” she said. “The chief minister cannot imagine even in her wildest of dreams what Rahul Gandhi is actually doing to reach out to the common masses.”

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