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Bill Gates' Amethi visit a hush-hush affair

Last updated on: May 12, 2010 03:39 IST

It was an unusual Tuesday for Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, who spent the day along the dusty, undulated roads of Amethi, the star constituency of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who remained in tow.

Accompanied by Rahul, the software czar who presides over the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, arrived in Amethi  on Tuesday morning to take a peek into what Rahul was doing in social and health sectors -- both in his mother and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi's Rae Bareli constituency as well as Amethi.

Gates and Rahul flew in a chartered aircraft from New Delhi and landed at the Indira Gandhi Flying Academy Academy in Fursatganj town of Rae Bareli around 10 am.

They drove down to Jais town, named after famous Sufi poet Malik Mohammad Jaisi, where Gates had an interaction with a large group of rural women engaged with self-help groups formed at Rahul's personal initiative.

Along with Gates' entourage of eight persons,  they were ushered into a heavily guarded Rajiv Gandhi Women's Training Centre run by Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust, where a group of some 300 women anxiously awaited their arrival.

Rahul, who chose to keep the Gates visit a closely guarded secret, ordered media as well as Congressmen to be kept at a "safe" distance.

"If you are from the media, you cannot go beyond this point," Rahul's SPG personnel told the Press Corps, at least 100 m from where he chose to halt along the meandering drive.

The media that had converged here in large numbers from Lucknow, however, remained on this trail like a wild-goose chase, braving the 42 degrees Celsius heat.

Even Congress state chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi was oblivious of the visit until the news was flashed on television.

A local Congress activist, who is involved in the preparation of the interaction with the women groups, said, "Women involved with different NGOs funded by the Rajiv Gandhi Charitable Trust were brought over to the training centre well before the arrival of the VVIPs."

Rahul and Gates were driven inside the tall gates of the centre, while the rest of their entourage followed them on foot after disembarking outside.

Nearly 100 cops were detailed to provide a security cover from outside while Rahul and Gates' had their respective personal security to maintain the inner ring around them.

After spending more than an hour at the women's training centre, Gates and Rahul drove down to the Sanjay Gandhi Hospital , run by the Rajiv Gandhi Foundation in Amethi .

Gates was taken round the only modern medical and health centre in the entire region. The Microsoft chief is said to have taken keen interest in upgrading the services at the hospital.

They also propose to visit another village in the neighbourhood, where Brtish Foreign Secretary David Miliband had spent a night along with Rahul in a poor Dalit's home.

They would return to New Delhi later in the afternoon after the Congress leaders pays a condolence visit to the family of a Congress worker who was murdered last month.

After showing  Bill Gates a glimpse of his Amethi parliamentary constituency,Gandhi took the Microsoft chief to experience life in a dalit village in a neighbouring Pratapgarh district, later on Tuesday evening. It was here that Gates opened up to a closer interaction with the locals--men, women and children--making inquiries about their personal lives , their livelihood , education and the general quality of life in this remote village.

He also showed interest in making inquiries about schemes like employment guarantee as also about the male-female ratio. Gates asked many if they preferred a son to a daughter.

Keeping the media at an arm's length, Rahul and Gates drove off to this village , some 25 km away from the Munshiganj guest house where they were spending the night.

They chose to halt at the dalit dominated Chamrahi locality of the village where they squatted on a charpoy and entered into a free-wheeling interaction with the villagers, for whom it seemed like a treat. And what added to their excitement was Rahul acting as interpreter between the villagers and Gates.

"We have never had the opportunity to see and talk to Rahul Gandhi in such a one-to-one manner ; it was great", said 55- year old Siya Ram, a local farmer. And what seemed to have made their day was Gates' introduction as the "world's wealthiest man", who gave  a new dimension to computers.

Excited with the brief interaction that he had with Gates, 14- year old Asha told this scribe , "I could have never imagined myself face to face with such a personality."

What had clearly impressed her most was the concern that Gates showed on learning that this little girl had dropped out of school in class VIII. And she could see the agony on his face when she told the software czar , "my family does not have enough money to support my studies ahead so I dropped out."

Forty-year old Rama Devi felt proud giving an account of how as a part of a women self-help group she had succeeded in motivating a number of women in her locality to create a decent kitty out of small savings . "The sahib (referring to Gates) listened to me with rapt attention as Rahul Bhaiya went about explaining things to him after asking me different questions", she said.

No sooner than word spread about the arrival of Rahul Gandhi with a foreigner VVIP , men, women and children made a beeline for the corner where Rahul and Gates were chatting away with the locals. After spending a good 45 minutes in Chamrahi locality, the two once again returned to the guest house only to once again venture out to yet another village for another round of interaction with a new set of rural folk around 2100 hrs at night, while  media continued to remain persona
non grata.

Gates to visit Bihar

Bill Gates will visit a remote, poverty-stricken village in Bihar on Wednesday to meet its MahaDalit residents.

During his day-long visit to Bihar, Gates will visit Gularia village under Alauli block in Khagaria district and interact with the villagers who survive without access to basic amenities.

The poor living conditions of MahaDalit families in Gularia village attracted the attention of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, said Khagaria District Magistrate Abhay Kumar.

"Bill Gates is likely to adopt the village during his visit," Kumar added.

Alauli block is where former Union minister and Lok Janshakti Party chief Ram Vilas Paswan hails from. Gates will meet Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Wednesday evening. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world's largest charitable organisation, has made health and self development programmes in Bihar and UP a priority.

With inputs from M I Khan in Patna

Image: Congress MP Rahul Gandhi (left) with Bill Gates in Amethi on Tuesday

Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow