Shri Rahul Gandhi
VARANASI, March 01, 2014
“For the first time somebody heard our story”
Thunderous applause marked Congress Vice President, Rahul Gandhi’s arrival at the Varanasi railway station today. Holding an open discussion with rickshaw pullers and auto rickshaw drivers from all over the city, he made his agenda clear – he was here to listen to them.
It was a historic moment. Those who ferried the visitors to different parts of the city were today the guests. A national leader, who they had seen only on television and posters, wanted to listen and talk to them. The excitement was palpable and the sentiments were strong. “It has never happened before. Nobody has ever come to ask us how we are doing, what problems we face and what we want. We are not only poor, we don’t even have our own place to live. For the first time, somebody has heard our story,” said Shravan Kumar, a 32-year old rickshaw puller from Gokalpur Village.
They poured their heart out. From high rent and low earning, to harassment by the police and local authorities and the poor standard of education in government schools, they shared their concerns with Mr. Gandhi. Mr. Gandhi also asked them several questions and engaged in a dialogue with them on not just their work, but also on matters of family, health and dignity. Reiterating his committment to to the needs of the over 70 crore people who are above the poverty line but still well below middle class income threshhold, he said “The real issue is that you must get rights. That is missing… You should be respected as much as those who drive the cars,” he said.
The rickshaw pullers also voiced their views on the state of affairs in Uttar Pradesh. “There was a time when Uttar Pradesh was a top performing state. Today it is counted at the bottom,” said one. Mr Gandhi said “In UP, discussion on development does not happen. You give a road building contract to someone so that the contractor and the politician can earn money. There are no teachers in schools. Nobody thinks about the poor… at the centre we have worked towards providing a floor of rights beneath the poor, below which they cannot fall. That’s how we have pulled out 14 crore people out of poverty. But in UP it hasn’t benefitted people,” he said.
Mr Gandhi had earlier held similar discussions with porters at the New Delhi Railway station and Anganwadi workers in Luckhnow.