Una, Gujarat: When he was filmed with his head lowered and his eyes seemingly closed in parliament, Rahul Gandhi teed up a sumptuous controversy for the opposition. His inertia during a debate on the attacks on Dalits in Gujarat just a day before he was to travel there left his party scrambling for explanations: he closed his eyes briefly to soak in the air conditioning, he was checking his cellphone.
- Rahul Gandhi visited Dalit victims at Gujarat hospital
- He hugged a woman assuming she was a victim's relative
- Woman used fake name to enter the area, has criminal cases
Bonus points to Mr Gandhi for giving his party something new to defend. During his trip to Una to meet with the young Dalit men who were stripped, tied to a car, and thrashed by a group of cow vigilantes for skinning a dead cow, the 46-year-old Vice President of the Congress hugged a woman at a local hospital.
No good deed goes unpunished.
Ramaben Muchhadiya, it turns out, was not a relative of one of the victims in need of reassurance. The 55-year-old has a criminal record that includes cases of extortion and rioting.
"As a Dalit mother, I decided to visit them (the victims) in the hospital. I even took two tiffins for the victims. I got passes to enter the ward and was checking on the health of one of the victims when Rahul Gandhi walked in. At that point, I had tears in my eyes after seeing the condition of the victims; then he hugged me,'' she recounted.
Mr Gandhi is accused regularly by his opponents of, at best, a surface-level interest in, limited comprehension of and flexible commitment to politics. Though his mother, Sonia, remains Congress chief, his growing stewardship of the party has delivered poor dividends, with the party losing a series of elections.
"That's classic Mr Rahul Gandhi for you. He always puts his party in an embarrassing position. So much for showing compassion for Dalit victims," observed BJP spokesman Raju Dhruv.
Perhaps the Congress could claim evidence of an impromptu, heartfelt gesture devoid of the orchestration of a carefully-constructed photo op. Other than that, it doesn't have very much to offer with local leaders stressing that the criminal Mr Gandhi embraced used a fake name to enter the area where he arrived. "The pass is given by the hospital administration, the identification of visitors is done by the medical officers on duty. The Congress wasn't connected to the identifying those who were there," alleged Congress spokesman Manish Doshi.