Rahul Gandhi to discuss tolerance during Dubai public address

The Indian opposition leader will visit the UAE before India's general election

President of the Indian National Congress Committee party Rahul Gandhi waves to supporters during an election rally ahead of the Meghalaya state assembly election at Mendipathar on February 20, 2018. (Photo by Kulendu Kalita / AFP)

Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi will speak about tolerance, independence hero Mahatma Gandhi and the challenges faced by Indians overseas to the 25,000 people expected to pack into Dubai International Cricket Stadium on Friday.

The president of the Indian Congress party will also meet workers, business leaders, students and teachers during a two-day visit to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Mr Gandhi’s 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.

“He is very keen to meet the Indian diaspora. He has always wanted to connect with them and, finally, in this new year he will be here,” senior Congress figure Himanshu Vyas said.

“Mr Gandhi wants to speak to them about the issues they are facing. He wants to learn what the people here have to say and how he can help so these challenges can be addressed and brought before Parliament.”

Mr Vyas said the Congress leader was aware of the financial problems faced by Indians when they returned home after losing jobs in the Middle East, and would address this subject in his speech.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves at a ceremonial reception for Norway's Prime Minister Erna Solberg at the Presidential Palace in New Delhi on January 8, 2019. Solberg is on a three-day state visit to India until January 9. / AFP / Prakash SINGH

In Abu Dhabi on Saturday, Mr Gandhi will visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque and is likely to meet Cabinet members including Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Tolerance.

About 11,000 people registered online to attend the free, four-hour event in Dubai. This will include a cultural programme to mark 2019 as the year of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi and celebrate the strong ties between India and the UAE.

Buses are being arranged to take supporters and their families from different emirates, and shuttle services will be laid on at metro stations near the Dubai stadium.

Congress officials insisted Mr Gandhi’s visit was not political, but UAE residents who will be part of the audience expect references to India’s coming elections.

His comments on tolerance will be closely watched because of protests against attacks on minorities and liberals in India.

“I think he will have to talk about politics. People want a change, they don’t want to see division and hate spread,” said Abdu Rahiman of the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre.

India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party lost elections in three important states last month, in its biggest electoral defeat since coming to power in 2014.


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This provided an opportunity for Mr Gandhi to gather an alliance of regional parties to provide Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his most serious challenge in the general election.

Congress was crushed by the BJP in the 2014 elections. Since then it repeatedly lost ground until its December victories.

There are thought to be 2.8 million Indian citizens living in the UAE.

Indians living overseas cannot vote from abroad. They must travel home to cast their ballot but they remain a vocal community.

Mr Gandhi was elected unopposed as Congress president in 2017 after his mother, Sonia Gandhi, retired.

Mrs Gandhi entered politics in 1994, three years after her husband, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated. The political dynasty has led the Congress party that ruled India for decades since the country won its independence from Britain in 1947.

Rahul Gandhi’s grandmother, the late Indira Gandhi, hosted Founding Father Sheikh Zayed during a visit to India when she was prime minister.