Days after raising a storm in the Parliament, where he allegedly fell asleep -- not for the first time -- as Home Minister Rajnath Singh was speaking on the Dalit protests across Gujarat, Rahul Gandhi has made another faux pas.
The vice-president of the Congress Party had gone to Rajkot Civil Hospital to meet the Dalit men who were stripped, tied to a car and thrashed by a group of cow vigilantes for skinning a dead cow in Una. As he stepped into the ward of the hospital where these men are recovering, he met a woman who claimed to be one of the victim's mother. Finding the woman in tears, Gandhi stepped up and hugged her, as she went on to show the wounds and scars on the body of the victim she claimed was her son.
All hell broke loose soon after as it emerged that the woman, though a Dalit, was not the victim's mother, or even remotely related to him. Worse still, Ramaben Muchhadiya is involved with the bootlegging mafia in Gujarat and has a criminal record for cases of extortion and rioting.
"That's classic Mr Rahul Gandhi for you. He always puts his party in an embarrassing position. So much for showing compassion for Dalit victims," BJP spokesman Raju Dhruv told NDTV responding to this incident.
When asked about the incident, Ramaben denied having impersonated. "As a Dalit mother, I decided to visit [the victims] in the hospital. I even took two tiffins for [them]," she said. "I got passes to enter the ward and was checking on the health of one of the victims when Rahul Gandhi walked in. At that point, I had tears in my eyes after seeing the condition of the victims; then he hugged me."
The matter didn't turn out to be as simple though.
According to a report in The Telegraph, Gujarat Congress general secretary, Hemang Vasavada, said local party leaders had "planted" Ramaben to show up the BJP-ruled state government in a bad light. "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," Vasavada, a Rajkot-based neurosurgeon, told The Telegraph.
He also revealed that Ramaben had campaigned in elections for Rajkot Congress MLA Indranil Rajyaguru and local councillor Vasram Sagathiya. Both Rajyaguru and Sagathiya have hotly denied these claims.
Rajyaguru said he didn't know Ramaben and accused the BJP of using her to malign the Congress. His colleague, Sagathiya, who is leader of the Opposition in the Rajkot civic body and a Dalit, defended Ramaben's presence at the scene. "She is a Dalit and a social worker and was looking after the victims, arranging food for them," he told The Telegraph. "Yes, she isn't related to them but it was her motherly love that brought her to the hospital."
Other members of the Congress were quick to deny any misdeeds. "The pass is given by the hospital administration, the identification of visitors is done by the medical officers on duty. The Congress wasn't connected to identifying those who were there," the party's spokesman Manish Doshi told NDTV.
Ramaben herself insisted she had little to do with the Congress or politics in general. She called herself a poor woman with no access to TV or newspapers. She had, however, travelled 250 km from the village of Mota Samadhiyala, where the beating of the Dalits had taken place, to see the victims in Rajkot.
Rajkot police commissioner Anupam Singh Gehlot has ordered an inquiry.