“I was thinking of working as a rickshaw puller for a day to understand your problems,” Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said as he sought to reach out to rickshaw pullers and autorickshaw drivers as part of his pre-manifesto exercise of interacting with various stakeholders.
Mr. Gandhi, however, added that he knew it would not be enough to “feel their pain” and vowed that Congress would take steps to improve their lives.
“I thank you all. You have sacrificed your day’s earnings for coming here to listen to me. I assure you all, that I would do everything possible to regain your dignity, to improve your lives and save you all from all sorts of difficulties that you have to go through each and everyday,” he said during the nearly 90-minute interaction held at the Cantonment Railway Station in Varanasi.
Mr. Gandhi said that the Centre had started several schemes for the weaker sections which were successfully running in all Congress ruled states but claimed that their benefits were not reaching the poor in Uttar Pradesh.
“All the schemes run by the Centre are visible in Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Maharashtra...primary schools are functioning better in these states but they fail in U.P...Centre’s schemes don’t reach the poor in U.P.,” he said as the participants informed him of their grievances.
Explaining the motive of his visit, Mr. Gandhi, who also visited the Kanshi Vishwanath temple, said the election manifesto of Congress party “which was earlier made by party leaders will now be made by you”.
Mr. Gandhi was visibly moved as the rickshawpullers told him about their daily struggle, especially harassment by policemen.
They alleged that they had to bribe the police to enter the Cantonment Railway station, where they were interacting with him.
An autorickshaw driver, Subhash Thakur, claimed that they have to shell out the same amount for getting a permit as is charged for running trucks.
To other demands, the Congress vice-president remarked that though he could not assure them of a loan-free new auto but he could do something to address the loopholes like reviewing the permit system.
“I don’t pull a rickshaw so I cannot understand your pain. I was thinking I should pull a rickshaw for a day with you to understand your suffering. But, I know this is not enough to gauge the extent of your struggle,” Mr. Gandhi said.
He said they played an important role in running “business and cities” and deserve the same respect and dignity as the “car owners”.
A large number of rickshawpullers were stopped from entering the venue for the interaction. Congress leader Satish Rai, who was present in the meeting, said a small group was allowed because of the changed schedule of Mr. Gandhi.
Mr. Gandhi has had interactions with women, youths, farmers, tribals and other groups to seek their views for preparation of the party manifesto for the Lok Sabha polls.