Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 24 August 2019

Five takeaways from Rahul Gandhi’s first official UAE visit

From jibes against Modi to dodging controversial questions

Rahul Gandhi has just rounded up a two-day visit to the Emirates.

During his visit, the Indian opposition leader met with UAE rulers, business leaders and blue-collar workers in a bid to curry favour with non-resident Indians ahead of this year’s general elections.

Here are five takeaways from his trip:

1. With an eye on elections, Mr Gandhi has sharp words for India’s Modi

During his visit, the congress leader had harsh words for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling him a thief and a liar. Those comments have whipped up a storm on social media - though they were not unlike remarks he has made in the past.

The Congress party president has made similar statements in India as he hopes to build an alliance with regional parties against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), ahead of the elections.

It was the fact that the comments were made in Dubai, after organisers had said his first official visit to the UAE would not be political, that triggered a strong reaction.

Congress officials had said he would address crowds to mark the 150th anniversary celebrations of Mahatma Gandhi, the world’s most famous pacifist.

But Mr Gandhi did not hold back during a public rally and at a media conference where he repeated his jibes “chowkidar chor hain” or “this guard is a thief.”

He was referring to his corruption accusation against the Modi government over a $8.7 billion (Dh32bn) fighter jet deal with France's Dassault Aviation.

Mr Gandhi has questioned the selection of a company owned by billionaire Anil Ambani as a local partner when it has no aeronautical experience.

Mr Ambani’s Reliance Defence was chosen over state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics, which has a proven record of manufacturing military aircraft.

Mr Gandhi accused the government of overpaying for the jets and charged Mr Modi with putting pressure on Dassault to choose Mr Ambani’s firm.

2. English — Hindi, maybe a bit of both

Mr Gandhi stuck to English when addressing a packed gathering on Friday at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium. This was on advice from local officials because the majority of the 24,000-strong crowd were from Kerala, in southern India, and may not have understood Hindi.

But sections of the crowd in the stands began moving out before Mr Gandhi completed his speech. It is suspected that this was because his message did not filter across to thousands of non-English speakers.

Workers from the north and central parts of India said they wished Mr Gandhi had spoken in Hindi.

Organisers said the language barrier had nothing to do with people exiting, rather that workers wanted to beat the rush and get on the buses that transported them from different emirates to the event.

3. Diplomatic non-answer on Hindu temple ban on women

Mr Gandhi dodged a question from a journalist who asked for his view on women entering the Sabarimala shrine in Kerala.

After India’s Supreme Court lifted a ban on women worshippers between the age of 10 and 50 from entering one of India’s largest religious sites, two women in their forties entered the centuries-old shrine on January 2. This sparked protests across the state.

While the state government described it as historic, the BJP said the court ruling was against Hindu values.

In response to the question, Mr Gandhi delivered an unconvincing reply: "I can see the validity in both arguments. I can see that women want equal rights and I have heard the position of the people of Kerala. I cannot give you an open and shut answer. This is complicated and both sides have valid arguments."


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4. Inviting NRIs to create jobs at home

While widely criticising the current government for rising unemployment and neglecting the youth and farmers’ welfare, Mr Gandhi said he believes non-resident Indians (NRIs) are part of the solution.

He described NRIs as India’s future and called on all Indians working overseas to help address challenges by fostering jobs and using technology to transform the agricultural sector.

Aside from his speech, there was no clear plan on how this could be achieved.

5. Voice of overseas Indians in new congress manifesto

During his trip, Mr Gandhi announced that the concerns of expatriate Indians would be embedded in a new congress manifesto.

“We are going to have detailed conversations with NRIs and we are going to ask you what you need. I want your voice in the manifesto that the congress produces,” he promised.

Non-resident Indians who live in other parts of the world will be invited to Dubai to participate in the compilation of a comprehensive wish list that will represent their needs.

Updated: January 14, 2019 10:18 AM