Amethi: The battle for the Dalit vote has just got more intense with Congress' celeb leader Rahul Gandhi staying in a Dalit home in his constituency, in a bid to dent the political monopoly over the community of Chief Minister Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).
In a subtle message to Mayawati, who has been insisting on getting security by the Special Protection Group (SPG), Congress president Sonia Gandhi's son went out of his way to show how all kinds of threats to his life did not deter him from mingling with people.
The scion of India's first political family triggered fresh debate on Republic Day when he wandered off to a tiny hamlet in his Amethi constituency and decided to dine in a Dalit home where he eventually also spent the night.
Not only did Rahul take the locals in Pure-Jawaharpur hamlet in Bahadurpur block of Amethi by surprise, but he also gave his security personnel a sleepless night as he slept on a charpoy at the house of Ram Sahai Kori after a prolonged tÃƒÂªte-ÃƒÂ -tÃƒÂªte with members of a self-help group until 3 am.
Congress leaders in the state compared him to his father, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
"Rahul was doing a Rajiv Gandhi, who used to be as carefree and open with his constituents and was known to make unscheduled halts at houses of the poorest of the poor and share a bite with them," said Uttar Pradesh Congress Legislature Party leader Pramod Tiwari.
Added another leader: "Mayawati should be taking Rahul as an example. Forget about such a close interaction with common people, she does not even allow access to anyone because of her security paranoia."
He went on to add: "Mayawati rarely attends office and chooses to remain confined to her heavily guarded official residence that has been of late converted into an armed fortress. If she really considers herself a popular leader, why is she so scared?"
As Congress workers made the most of Rahul's "spontaneous" gesture, Mayawati's supporters termed it a "drama" with eyes on the Dalit vote.
"Finding that the Dalit vote was now slipping out of the Congress hands even in their pocket borough, Rahul Gandhi has started resorting to such gimmicks," BSP state president Swami Prasad Maurya told IANS.
He slammed the central government for denying SPG cover to Mayawati.
About three years ago, Rahul's sister Priyanka had demonstrated in the same village to protest the torture of a Dalit youth by the local police.