Dec. 7: He is said to be deeply interested in infotech but as Rahul Gandhi came face to face with Bill Gates, the young MP left no one in any doubt about what was priority number one. Bihar, despite the poll rout.
When the IT czar expressed his wish to contribute to India’s health sector through his multi-billion-dollar Bill Gates foundation, Rahul was quick to respond: “Why don’t you do something for Bihar'”
For the next few minutes, Bill and wife Melinda listened rapt as the young Gandhi described movingly how the deadly kala-azar kills hundreds in Bihar every year.
When he finished, the American businessman quietly said he would “love to visit Bihar” as Melinda nodded in approval.
Senior Congress MP Murli Deora ' who had accompanied Gates to 10 Janpath for a meeting with United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi ' said the tech baron was serious about visiting Bihar and doing “his bit”.
Rahul’s presence at yesterday’s meeting was rather unusual as the young man avoids hovering in the background when his mother meets official visitors. On Tuesday, he made an exception.
Rahul told Gates that over 14,000 fresh cases of kala-azar had been reported in Bihar and that he feared an epidemic by 2007 if precautions were not taken fast.
Kala-azar has become an annual killer in the flood-affected areas of Darbhanga district of north Bihar.
Transmitted by the bite of a sand fly, the disease can lead to an enlargement of vital organs such as the liver. Untreated, it causes death. In the past two years, over 300 patients have died in Darbhanga alone.
Rahul’s passionate plea to Gates to pump in millions of dollars into Bihar reflects his constant concern for one of the country’s most backward regions. A few months ago, the Amethi MP had said bluntly that there was no trace of governance in Bihar.
The off-the-cuff remark had caused acute embarrassment to the Congress as Bihar, then under President’s rule, was till a few months earlier being governed by its ally Rashtriya Janata Dal. But Rahul clarified that his remark was aimed at the systemic failure and collapse of the administrative system in the state rather than an attack on a political party or regime.
The subject of IT did not figure too prominently at the meeting, though the grapevine has it that Rahul is passionate about setting up a state-of-the-art software company in the country in partnership with a leading MP.
Sources said the Gandhis and Gates mostly discussed health-care issues, sharing their experiences.
Melinda and Bill described their foundation’s global health programme, aimed at providing people in the developing world with the same opportunity for good health as those living in the developed world. Sonia and Rahul spoke of the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation’s (RGF’s) efforts to develop and distribute health tools and strategies.
The foundation, of which Rahul is a trustee, has been running programmes in primary health care, tuberculosis and AIDS control and management, cancer care for the terminally ill, training and skills development, promotion of traditional system of medicines as well as social marketing and communication of health messages.