Rahul Gandhi interacts with the villagers in Badaun on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, May 31: Rahul Gandhi’s decision to meet the family of the two cousins gang-raped and murdered in Badaun was viewed with caution and scepticism in the party as several leaders said only a sustained presence among the people would dilute the charge of tokenism the young leader has attracted.
The Congress vice-president met the family of the teenage Dalit girls in their village less than 300km from Lucknow and spoke forcefully about justice and women’s safety, supporting the demand for a CBI inquiry.
After spending an hour with the family, Rahul said: “They have said that the honour of their daughters cannot be brought back with money. They said they want justice and they have no faith in the UP police…. I agree with them, there can be no price for a woman’s honour.”
He added: “Those who have committed this crime should know that they cannot do such things in India.”
A PTI report from the spot said villagers had told Rahul such incidents occur but the victims do not raise their voice fearing social stigma.
The Congress leader went to the spot where the cousins, aged 14 and 15, were found hanging from a tree.
The father of one of the girls said: “Let them kill all of us. We are being threatened. I will not accept the Rs 5 lakh cheque (compensation announced by the Uttar Pradesh government).”
As Rahul interacted with women in the village, one of them broke down and told him her child was missing for the past seven years.
Party leaders admit Rahul has the capacity to develop an instant connect with the poor and said he would have won their trust had he interacted with them more frequently.
“He won Amethi under difficult circumstances because he had worked there and majority of people trusted his commitment. He didn’t have similar connect with the people elsewhere though he got enough time to make his mark,” a leader said.
His past attempts to reach out to the poor and the backward have been labelled cosmetic.
A senior leader who has been extremely critical of Rahul’s leadership after the rout told The Telegraph: “We welcome his prompt response, the horrific incident could not have been ignored by the party. But he will have to be there among the people all the time. He is the leader and the face of the party. He cannot use such incidents as political trophy like he did with Bhatta Parsaul and occasional visits to Dalit homes.”
Another leader wasn’t as harsh but echoed the same sentiment: “Rahul should generate a belief in the poor and deprived sections of the society that he cares for them and will stand up for their cause. It is true such gestures cannot be episodic and seasonal. He made a powerful impact on Uttar Pradesh during the last Assembly elections and vanished after the defeat. He never returned to Bihar after the Assembly elections. He will have to change this.”
A senior party functionary who is otherwise sympathetic towards Rahul said: “When we meet Rahul, it invariably occurs to us he has to learn a lot and become political. When we meet Sonia Gandhi, we learn something and return wondering how mature she is. The public perception about Sonia’s leadership qualities is based on gross underestimation. She is a true democrat, very sensitive and totally committed. Rahul needs to learn from her.”
Within an hour of Rahul voicing the demand for a CBI probe into the Badaun rape-and-murder, the Akhilesh Yadav government said it was ready for one. “The state government will send a letter of request to the Union home ministry soon,” it said in a news release.