Rahul Gandhi hugs Ramaben
Ahmedabad, July 25: A tearful woman whom Rahul Gandhi had hugged in a Rajkot hospital on Thursday while visiting Dalits beaten by cow vigilantes has turned out not to have been the mother of any of the victims, prompting a police probe for possible impersonation.
State Congress general secretary Hemang Vasavda has acknowledged that local party leaders "planted" Ramaben to criticise the state government before Rahul and the media.
"It was an indefensible and foolish act that has embarrassed the party, giving ammunition to the BJP, which had been on the back foot on the Una incident," Vasavda, a Rajkot-based neurosurgeon, told The Telegraph.
Rajkot police commissioner Anupam Singh Gehlot has ordered an inquiry. "It's a case of impersonation," he told this newspaper.
"We are trying to find out who gave her name to the SPG (which guards Rahul). Only those cleared by the SPG can meet Rahul Gandhi. It seems the hospital gave her name, but who suggested her name is being investigated."
Vasavda said Ramaben had campaigned in elections for Rajkot Congress MLA Indranil Rajyaguru and local councillor Vasram Sagathiya but had a "dubious" background and faced cases of bootlegging, extortion and attempt to murder.
"It's sad she was presented before the top leadership," he said.
Ramaben, who has stopped visiting the hospital after the row broke on Saturday, acknowledged to this newspaper that she was not related to any of the victims.
"I'm a Dalit woman; all Dalits are my sons," she said over the phone. "I was in the hospital for two days looking after them before Rahul Gandhi came. As a Dalit woman, I'm a mother to all Dalit victims."
She denied any connection with the Congress.
Police sources said Ramaben was the only supposed "relative" among the six people who met Rahul apart from the patients, the rest being local Congress leaders. All the relatives had been asked to move out before Rahul entered the ward.
It's not clear whether the sobbing Ramaben had expressly claimed being a patient's mother before Rahul but is heard in TV footage telling him: "Now we will not go back to Mota Samadhiyala, our village."
Mota Samadhiyala, 250km from Rajkot, is the home of the Dalit patients where they were thrashed for skinning a cow in an act that has stoked national outrage.
Ramaben, police sources said, lives in Rajkot and not Mota Samadhiyala and is suspected of links with the bootlegging mafia in Gujarat, which is under prohibition.
On Thursday, she had shown Rahul the injury marks on the patients and told him: "You are our own; (chief minister) Anandiben (Patel) doesn't care for her."
BJP spokesperson Raju Dhruv said the Congress's "planting" of Ramaben to "malign" his party was a "mean act".
Rajyaguru denied any role, saying he didn't know Ramaben, and accused the BJP of planting her to defame the Congress.
Sagathiya, leader of the Opposition in the Rajkot civic body and a Dalit, defended Ramaben's presence during Rahul's visit.
"She is a Dalit and a social worker and was looking after the victims, arranging food for them," he said.
"Yes, she isn't related to them but it was her motherly love that brought her to the hospital."
"I'm a poor Dalit woman. I live in the slums, I have no TV, I don't read newspapers," Ramaben told this newspaper.
"I don't understand politics. These TV- wallahs are unnecessarily harassing me."