The Telegraph
Thursday , February 27 , 2014
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Superpower? Women’s safety first
‘Inspired by Mahatma’

- Students quiz cong vice-president

Guwahati, Feb. 26: From Nido Tania’s death to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in Manipur, from poor connectivity to lack of jobs and women’s safety, Rahul Gandhi was today questioned on a host of issues concerning youths from the Northeast.

“Why are we not generating more jobs by giving more emphasis on manufacturing? If you become the Prime Minister, what will you do to generate jobs for people like us in the region?” an engineering student of Don Bosco University asked as the Congress vice-president interacted with students at the university in Azara here this morning.

Instead of replying, Rahul asked the students their views on what was required to boost manufacturing and jobs. The students suggested better connectivity and adherence to labour laws.

“Yes. We have to give more emphasis on improving connectivity. At the same time, we must encourage entrepreneurship,” Rahul said.

A girl from Manipur, studying at the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Sriperumbudur, connected with the session through video conferencing, asked: “I celebrated Independence Day only after I came to Sriperumbudur. We can’t celebrate national holidays in Manipur because of strikes and fear. What is your view on AFSPA affecting life and students in Manipur?”

Evading a direct reply, Rahul said, “I believe that the problems in Manipur cannot be solved by using force. We have to give power to the people and solve the problem through discussion. I am inspired by Mahatma Gandhi that any conflict can be resolved through discussions, love and peace.”

Rahul was on a two-day visit to Assam and the interactive session with the students was organised as part of his Agenda for Change programme. Students from Don Bosco University, Gauhati University and Cotton College State University attended the discussion while those from IIM Shillong, NIT Silchar, NIT Agartala and the Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Sriperumbudur, interacted with him via Internet. About 30 students from the institute were connected to the session through Internet.

When a girl from Shillong, studying masters in social work, asked him about participation of youths in an empowered nation, Rahul said, “I don’t want electricity, roads or jobs if incidents like Nido Tania’s unfortunate death happen. We want to empower people and make them happy.”

Another student asked what, according to him, was the reason for the attack on Nido. “Ignorance” Rahul replied. “There are people who don’t know what other people are. Nido went to study but someone did not know it and attacked him. In India, we have people with different cultures and that is our strength.”

The questions that followed ranged from increasing instances of rape to reservation to bad blood over certain demands of ethnic groups in Assam.

Asked how could the growing incidents of rape be checked, Rahul said, “They (the culprits) must be punished.”

He asked the girl students whether women were treated well in everyday life, whether they were comfortable travelling on a bus. “No, sir, we don’t feel comfortable travelling on buses. We feel unsafe going out after dark,” a student, Kakoli, replied.

Rahul said he would rather make women travelling in a bus safe than have India being a superpower. “What superpower? I will rather make a woman safe in a bus than (make India) a superpower.”

On various ethnic groups in Assam threatening to divide the state, he said, “When power is decentralised to the people, then no question of divide on lines of ethnicity or caste will arise.”

Rahul’s interactive session with the students was moderated by young Congress MLA from Silchar, Sushmita Dev.

The participants said the session had enabled them to gain some idea about what Rahul thought about the problems faced by youths of the Northeast. “It felt good to be part of the programme but Rahul did not take a stand on issues such as the AFSPA. He was diplomatic in his replies like any other politician,” Udipta Bhuyan, a student of mass communication in Cotton College, said.

Congress leaders, however, seemed happy. Assam NSUI president Mrinal Hazarika said, “No political leader has ever had such an interaction with students of the region.”

Earlier, accompanied by chief minister Tarun Gogoi, PCC president Bhubaneswar Kalita and party leaders, Rahul offered prayers at Kamakhya temple on Nilachal Hill here.

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