On the conclusion of his maiden visit to the UAE, Indian Congress party president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday said in Dubai that he is taking back the love of the UAE people and the idea of tolerance, which “is being attacked in our own country”.

Gandhi, who was on a two-day visit to the UAE, told a press conference in Dubai that “I’m taking back the love and affection of the people of the UAE and I’m taking back the idea that the Indian diaspora is a very, very powerful asset for our country, and needs to be embraced and fully utilised; needs to be treated with love and affection”.

‘Tolerance attacked’

Gandhi, a member of the Indian parliament who is widely seen as the contender to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the general elections later this year, added that “I’m also taking back the idea that I’ve seen here in Dubai of tolerance… that is an Indian idea, that is being attacked in our own country”.

‘Surprise or two’

Speaking at the press conference in Dubai, Gandhi took questions from the press, including a few on Saturday’s surprise announcement in India that the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have decided to form an alliance and contest an equal number of seats (38) in India’s Uttar Pradesh (UP) state in the upcoming general elections — leaving no seats for Congress.

Gandhi responded that SP and BSP have a right to join hands but the Congress will fight elections in UP “with full force… and will spread our ideology in Uttar Pradesh. We will create our own space”.

Gandhi, 48, said Congress will mobilise in UP and show it is capable of delivering “a surprise or two”.

Response to ‘offensive’ remark

The politician also dismissed the controversy over his remarks on Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman. Last week, Gandhi was accused of making a “misogynstic and offensive” remark when he said: “The watchman with a 56-inch chest ran away and told a woman, Sitharaman Ji, defend me. I won’t be able to defend myself, defend me.”

On Saturday in Dubai, he responded to the controversy by saying: “That person chose to send a woman, so I said ‘woman’. Had he chosen to send a man, I would have said ‘man’. Don’t impose your sexism on me. The central issue is Rafale.”

Gandhi said the Prime Minister is “held hostage by Rafale scam” and that he has no right to call opposition alliance a failed experiment. The Congress President was responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s jibe earlier on Saturday calling the Opposition alliance a “failed experiment” and said they want to form a “majboor” (weak) Government to promote corruption.

Sabarimala stand

Also, Gandhi, in his first public remarks about the Sabarimala temple issue in India’s Kerala state, said that his initial position has changed after hearing both sides of the argument. One camp wants to continue the tradition of barring women from entering the temple while the other camp — including India’s Supreme Court — wants to allow women equal access as men.

“I can see the validity in both arguments… I cannot give you an open-and-shut position… I leave it to the people of Kerala to decide.”