Former Congress President Rahul Gandhi was manhandled and pushed to the ground by the Uttar Pradesh Police on the national highway when he tried to walk to Hathras, leaving behind the convoy of cars, to meet the family of a Dalit girl, who died in a hospital two days ago.
Rahul and his younger sister Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, an AICC general secretary in-charge of UP, were detained for a while after the lathi-wielding cops attacked the Congress workers and later left them at the Delhi-UP border, reminding them that the situation is still tense and their visit to Hathras will aggravate the situation.
They were stopped almost 142 km away from Hathras at Greater Noida. Rahul and Priyanka, in a show of bravado, climbed out of their SUV and started walking, signalling that they would trudge all the way to Hathras, even as party workers took the cue and started raising slogans against UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath.
The distance was such that there was no way they could have traversed it. Still, the police tried to thwart their progress. Rahul, conscious of the media glare with the TV cameramen following the Congress convoy, was seen jostling with the cops who were physically trying to restrain him. Pushed around in the melee, he fell on the ground.
A quintessential politician, now, Rahul was heard wailing. "Just now the police pushed and threw me to the ground. I want to ask, can only Modi ji walk in this country? Can't a normal person walk? Our vehicle was stopped, so we started walking," Rahul said.
He and his sister staged a brief sit-in dharna on the road with hundreds of supporters before they were whisked away by the police. Uttar Pradesh Minister Siddharth Nath Singh, who was earlier one of BJP's national spokespersons, scoffed at "this kind of optics by the Gandhis taking advantage of a tragedy."
A former Union home minister and senior Congress leader had his own take on the incident and tweeted: "The UP police is a law into itself. None of the laws of the country seem to apply to it. What is wrong if the leaders of a political party protest against a gruesome crime and wish to visit the victim's family?"
Rahul, man of the moment, shouted at a police officer: "Why are you arresting me? What are the grounds for the arrest? If not me, tell the media under what sections."
The officer kept his cool and said it was under Section 188 of the IPC, which is invoked when there is disobedience to an order duly proclaimed by a public servant. He explained that large gatherings were banned in the area.
Ahead of the Congress procession, the UP Police had barricaded the roads to Hathras, on the pretext of the spreading epidemic.
The Samajwadi Party, which once ruled Uttar Pradesh, protested at the Hathras border, but its workers were not allowed to proceed further. An official said restrictions were in place since September 1 and they have been extended till October 31.
Priyanka tried to strike an emotional chord and said it was gross injustice that those who swear by the Hindu religion did not allow the father to conduct the last rites of his daughter