Rahul turns up for scrapped date

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By BISWAJEET BANERJEE WITH INPUTS FROM DELHI BUREAU in Lucknow
  • Published 24.10.08
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Lucknow, Oct. 24: Rahul Gandhi reached the auditorium of a Kanpur university to find it locked, so he went across to the canteen to keep his date with the students over tea.

“I do not know why my programme was cancelled,” he later said, when asked about the last-minute cancellation.

When the Congress MP touched down in Kanpur today, party colleagues were told the interaction with Chandra Shekhar Azad Agriculture University students was off.

Union minister of state for home Sri Prakash Jaiswal, who accompanied Rahul from Delhi, said he got a call from the vice-chancellor informing him of the cancellation. “The VC told us not to go there. He said the meeting has been cancelled on the directive of the state government,” Jaiswal said over phone.

But Rahul chose to go anyway and, finding the auditorium locked, took a tour of the campus with a crowd of students tailing him. Then he walked over to the canteen.

Kaise hain aap log (How are you)?” he asked the surprised students, pulling up a chair. Complaints poured out, ranging from poor infrastructure to falling academic standards. Straining to hear them over the canteen din, Rahul asked about the hostel, the food and the mess. He also made a trip to the hostel.

Later in the day, governor T.V. Rajeswar, who was handpicked by Congress chief Sonia Gandhi for the post, skipped the university’s annual convocation. He was to have been the chief guest.

Congress sources said the invitation to Rahul had come from the vice-chancellor. “We later learnt from authoritative sources that the state revenue secretary and the education secretary had ordered the VC to call off the interaction,” a source said.

When Rahul chose to drive to the university, the government failed to provide him security on the way, the source alleged. State Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi said: “It was a conspiracy to kill Rahul Gandhi.”

But government spokesperson Diwakar Tripathi said: “The government is nowhere in the picture…. The university administration might have cancelled the meeting.”

Earlier this month, Mayavati had tried to scuttle a railway coach factory in Sonia’s constituency and refused her permission to hold a rally in Rae Bareli. But like her son today, Sonia interacted with residents informally.

Asked why the Mayavati government was vindictive towards his family, Rahul said: “I do not know.”

Union ministers Lalu Prasad and Ram Vilas Paswan hit out at Mayavati for the meeting cancellation, calling it “shameful and undemocratic”.

Rahul had another date over tea, this time in a Dalit basti in the town. “Chai bahut achchhi thi, he told Khurshida Begum at whose house he had stopped.