Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi told hundreds of workers that he was in the UAE to understand the challenges they face and offer them a helping hand.
Hundreds of workers lined the balconies and gathered into the open area of a labour accommodation in Jebel Ali in Dubai to meet the Congress Party President at the start of his two-day UAE visit on Friday.
“I know you leave your home to go abroad to work and you face many difficulties. You work the entire day and send money home. I have come here to tell you that we stand with you.” Mr Gandhi said to resounding cheers.
“We are ready to help. Whatever you need, whatever we can do to help you, we will. We want to talk to you.”
He met some labourers face-to-face and listened to some of their stories about the challenges of working overseas.
Labourers typically pay large sums as loans to agents to secure jobs in the Middle East. They remit most of their earnings to pay for education fees and house loans back home.
This leaves them with little to no savings if they lose their jobs or when companies shut down and they are forced to return to India without being paid their full wages.
The workers sported paper caps emblazoned with Gandhi’s profile and the palm symbol of the Congress party on the Indian tricolour.
“I’m not here to tell you what is on my mind but I want to hear what you have to say,” Mr Gandhi said to applause.
His audience understood his veiled reference to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's popular radio show titled Mann ki Baat or Speaking from the Heart.
Mr Modi talks of his plans for the country in monthly addresses to about two thirds of India’s 1.2 billion people who regularly tune into the radio.
This is Mr Gandhi’s maiden visit after he was elected unopposed as the president of Congress in 2017 following his mother Sonia Gandhi retirement.
He earlier also met business leaders at a breakfast meeting.
About 25,000 Congress supporters are estimated at the Dubai International Cricket Stadium later on Friday to hear him speak.
Organisers are laying on hundreds of buses across the UAE to help supporters attend the event.
The visit is part of an attempt by the country’s biggest opposition party to engage with the influential expatriate Indian community before general elections in April and May this year.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party won the 2014 elections in a landslide. Congress has since repeatedly lost ground until gaining three states December victories.
Rahul Gandhi in Dubai:
Congress supporters have travelled with their families from across the UAE to Dubai to listen to a man they hope will be India’s next prime minister.
But organisers said the visit was not political and that Mr Gandhi’s speech would focus on the ‘The idea of India’ and non-violence icon Mahatma Gandhi’s message of tolerance.
The free four-hour programme will include a cultural festival to mark 2019 as the the year of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi and celebrate the strong ties between the UAE and India.