Accusing Mayawati of not allowing any Scheduled Caste leader to rise in Uttar Pradesh, Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday said there is a big opportunity for the Congress to create leadership space in the community and it should ensure that Dalit leadership is created in all fields.
Noting that Dalit empowerment in India has taken place in stages, Gandhi said the first stage involved Dalit icon B R Ambedkar, who, along with the Congress, contributed in writing the Constitution and ensuring reservations for them.
"The second stage was of Kanshi Ram (late Bahujan Samaj Party chief) who used the empowerment from reservations to build an organisation," Gandhi said while speaking at a programme on National Awareness for Scheduled Castes Empowerment in Delhi.
He said Mayawati had played a role in this stage.
The Congress leader maintained that the country is going through the third phase where the most important aspect is leadership development.
"If you want to take this (Dalit) movement forward, then one Dalit leader or two Dalit leaders would not be enough. Lakhs of Dalit leaders are needed; the leadership of the movement has been captured by Mayawati. She doesn't allow others to rise," Gandhi said.
The Congress vice president claimed this was a big opportunity for the party, which has done a lot for Dalits in the past. He asked the party to "systematically" prepare Dalit leadership at every level -- from panchayats to Member of Legislative Assembly to Member of Parliament and even at the policy level.
Congress leaders have claimed that Dalits were originally with the party but were weaned away by the Bahujan Samaj Party in the wake of the Mandal-Mandir agitation. The party believes efforts should be made to bring them back to their "original home".
Expressing solidarity with the Dalits, Gandhi said the life of an "underdog" is difficult.
Drawing an analogy, he said the escape velocity needed to escape from Jupiter's atmosphere is much more than that of the Earth.
"The escape velocity for earth is 11.2 km/sec while that of Jupiter is 60 km/sec. In India we have the concept of caste. There is an escape velocity here also. For a Dalit to achieve success the escape velocity required is that of Jupiter. More effort is needed," Gandhi said.
Citing the example of Ambedkar, the Congress vice president said he is looked up to with pride as he was the first Dalit to reach the escape velocity and go to America.
Referring to his grandmother Indira Gandhi, former prime minister, Rahul said she narrated an anecdote to him years ago about how she had cheered for a team playing against host Germany -- then ruled by Hitler.
"The whole stadium (full of Germans) shouted against her. She sat down in fear but decided that never again in her life she will ever sit down in fear. If somebody is doing anything wrong, never sit down," Gandhi said, amid applause.
Defending his comments on the ordinance on convicted lawmakers that forced the government to withdraw it, Gandhi said there is no "right time" to speak the truth because choosing a time will make the truth a lie.
"I was in Gujarat. There I was told by journalists that the opposition is saying that I had not chosen the right time to speak on the ordinance. Is there any right time to speak the truth? If you chose the right time to speak the truth then it is not truth but a lie," he said while addressing another meet.
Gandhi's statement -- that the ordinance on convicted lawmakers was "complete nonsense" and it should be "torn up and thrown away" -- had created a big controversy and the government was forced to withdraw it.
Gandhi accused the Opposition Bharatiya Janata Party of not having an understanding about the poor and said, "They don't spend night in your houses. They just talk about your progress but they don't hold your hands and they also don't understand your problems."
The Congress leader pointed out that some of the bills passed in Parliament have not been named well.
"Recently the Manual Scavenging Bill was passed. It should actually be called the Right to Self-Respect Bill," he said.
Gandhi underscored the need for the party to create leaders in every state so that "people can say Congress has 40-50 people who can work as the prime minister, who can work as the chief minister".