Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Rahul Gandhi in Dubai: Congress leader calls on UAE Indians to help growth at home

Speaking to more than 24,000 people, the Indian party leader described non-resident Indians all over the world as the country’s biggest strength

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has appealed to overseas Indians to help with job creation, setting up manufacturing and contribute to agricultural growth back home.

Waving to an estimated audience of more than 24,000 people who rose to their feet to greet him at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday, he described non-resident Indians all over the world as the country’s biggest strength.

“I want you to do in India what you have done here (the UAE), in the US, in Europe and Africa. I want a commitment from you that you will help us solve the challenges we face,” he said.

Mr Gandhi also spoke of his meeting with UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, saying he was struck by the Dubai Ruler’s humility.

“The number one emotion I experienced in His Highness was humility. Great nations are built with that type of humility,” Mr Gandhi said.

“A leader is he who has vision and listens and appreciates not only the people of his own country, but the voice of others who live here.”

Praising the UAE for its tolerance, he said he was saddened by the “intolerance” in his own country.

Crowds begin to gather ahead of Rahul Gandhi's speech today at Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Reem Mohammed / The National
Crowds begin to gather ahead of Rahul Gandhi's speech today at Dubai International Cricket Stadium. Reem Mohammed / The National

“India can never be strong if it is divided. Different religions and communities in our country are being divided for political benefit,” Mr Gandhi said.

Reference attacks on minorities and liberals in India by right wing groups, he said that he wants “every single Indian to work to bring India together".

"We are one country, not many communities and religions.”

He also promised NRIs that the Congress Party would work towards a long-standing demand for representation in India’s Upper House of Parliament and assured them that all their grievances and concerns would be reflected in a manifesto that is being prepared before the elections.

“I want to make sure your voice is embedded in our manifesto. We will have detailed conversations with NRIs and we will ask what you need. We understand you have a problem with representation and I’m here to tell you that we are going to do that for you,” Mr Gandhi said.

Shouting slogans like “long live Rahul Gandhi,” Congress Party supporters filed in to the cricket stadium to hear from a man they hope will be India’s next prime minister.

Men sold T-shirts bearing photographs of Mr Gandhi to people outside the stadium.

“Yes, I believe he can beat Modi. I’m sure he will be a good prime minister like his father and grandmother,” said Sanjana Ahmed cradling her four-month daughter Sarah.

“I want my child to witness this so I have brought her here.”

She was at the stadium a few hours before Mr Gandhi was scheduled to speak along with her brother’s family and two nieces, aged 5 and 3.

Mr Gandhi was elected unopposed as the Congress Party president in 2017 after the retirement of his mother, Sonia Gandhi.

“India can never be strong if it is divided. Different religions and communities in our country are being divided for political benefit,” Mr Gandhi said. Reem Mohammed / The National
“India can never be strong if it is divided. Different religions and communities in our country are being divided for political benefit,” Mr Gandhi said. Reem Mohammed / The National

Mr Gandhi belongs to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that ruled India for the longest period since it won independence from British rule in 1947.

His late father, Rajiv Gandhi, and late grandmother, Indira Gandhi, were prime ministers and his great-grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, was India’s first PM.

Safety officer Vineesh Chalada, who travelled from Ajman with his wife and two-year-old daughter said he supported Congress to ensure peace back home.

“[Mr Gandhi] should become PM because we want Hindus and Muslims to have equal space. The Congress Party has always supported Muslims and all communities and that is what we want,” he said.

The Modi government has been criticised for not clamping down on right-wing attacks on liberals and minorities in India.

Mr Gandhi’s visit is being keenly watched before the general elections in India in April and May. Although Indians cannot vote from overseas and must return to their constituencies to vote, they are a vocal and influential community.

Mr Gandhi is in Dubai to speak on the "idea of India" and the values of tolerance espoused by non-violence leader Mahatma Gandhi during his 150th centenary year.

The Congress Party has said Mr Gandhi is in the UAE as part of a number of foreign visits planned to meet Indians overseas, to understand their concerns and raise them in parliament.

After the defeat of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party in three key state elections in December, the polls are being seen as the best chance for the Congress to work with regional parties in an alliance and take on the ruling BJP.

There are 3.3 million Indian expatriates in the UAE.

In the Dubai stadium, some carried placards with the messages "ahlan Rahul" and "marhaba UAE".

People came to hear him speak of his plans for the country.

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“We have a lot of hope for Rahul Gandhi. We want to see change to improve the situation, not only of Muslims but of all communities,” said Syed Rahman, who lives in Dubai and runs a construction business out of Fujairah.

“There needs to be better safety and security for all. People are here to show that they back Rahul Gandhi. This is the time for alliances in India, for the non-BJP parties to come together and support the Congress.”

Five friends who share an apartment in Ajman said their families have traditionally supported Congress.

“Rahul is young, he is secular. He needs to be the leader,” said Syed Ibrahim, an engineer.

Others said they knew friends who had backed the ruling BJP and its leader Narendra Modi in the last elections.

“There was too much corruption so people voted for Modi the last time. But he has caused too many problems between religions in the last four years and there needs to be change,” said Victor D’Souza, a construction supervisor who has lived in the UAE for 20 years.

Earlier on Friday, Mr Gandhi met labourers at their accommodation in Jebel Ali.

He said he had come to the UAE to stand by them and find out how he could help.

“You have worked in India and here you have worked to build a city that is famous all over the world — Dubai. I want to thank you for all your efforts,” he said.

Updated: January 12, 2019 06:50 PM

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