Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Friday that his party will grant special category status to Andhra Pradesh if voted to power in the upcoming general elections. He made the statement in his address to the Indian diaspora at a cricket stadium in Dubai on Friday.
Gandhi, who is in the UAE on a two-day visit, announced, "As soon as our government comes to power, we will give special status to Andhra Pradesh". Andhra Pradesh was bifurcated into Telangana and the residuary Andhra Pradesh state on June 2, 2014.
Special category status has been one of the major demands of all political parties in Andhra since the bifurcation, and had made the Telugu Desam Party pull out from the NDA after the Narendra Modi government rejected the demand.
The Centre has cited the 14th Finance Commission and said that the report does not allow it to grant special status to Andhra Pradesh and has instead offered a special financial package, but Rahul Gandhi ignored such concerns while making the promise.
Gandhi reiterated what he told a group of party workers protesting at Jantar Mantar in March last year for Andhra Pradesh's special status. "It's the first thing we will do after coming to power in 2019," he had told the workers.
"I am confident that if we stand together we will convince the Government of India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi that what is due to the people of Andhra Pradesh should be given to them," he said.
In his address to the Indian diaspora, Gandhi said that while humility and tolerance for different ideas, religions and communities are the values that bring together the people of the two countries, India has faced “four-and-a-half years of intolerance”.
He also met Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and said was impressed by his humility.
"At here (in the UAE), it is the 'Year of Tolerance', but back home (in India), I'm sad to say we have been witnessing intolerance for the last four-and-a-half years," Gandhi said in a veiled attack on the BJP rule at the Centre.
"We can never run a country like India believing that only one idea is correct and all other are wrong. Today, my beloved country India is being divided for political reasons," the Congress president said.
Taking a jibe at the BJP's 'Congress-mukt Bharat slogan, he said "we don't need a 'BJP-mukt Bharat'. We want an India where every citizen says he is an Indian first and then the rest".
"Drawing an analogy between cricket and India, Gandhi said can a divided cricket team win a match? Then how can a divided country be successful," he said at the stadium.
Gandhi said India has been devastated by demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax (GST). India is not simply a geographical idea, he said.
"First big challenge is generating employment and we can beat China in this domain. Secondly, our farmers are in trouble and we need second Green Revolution," he told a cheering crowd.
"You come to Dubai, you carry the idea of India in your heart. I want to tell you that till the day I die, my doors, my ears and my heart will always be open for you.”
"Every single Indian, irrespective of where they live, is responsible to bring India together once again. We have to say enough," Gandhi said.
Earlier in the day, in a jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Gandhi told Indian workers that he wants to listen to their problems instead of telling his “Mann ki Baat”, which is the name of Modi’s monthly radio programme.
He said that without the help of the NRIs, it would be impossible for India to be where it is today.
"In the last century, when we stood up and fought the British, the fight was led by an NRI called Mahatma Gandhi. Mahatma Gandhi picked up the idea of non-violence from every great religion where it is clearly written that violence will not help you achieve anything," the Congress president said.
India's future is directly linked to NRIs future, he said. "If you are unhappy and feeling troubled, India is unhappy and troubled. The idea of India is to accept tolerance, brotherhood. Non-violence is embedded in our DNA. India has the blueprint not just for itself, but also for the whole planet. You are part of that idea.
The stadium was filled up with tens of thousands of people from several states across India. A cultural show marked the start of the event. Gandhi will visit the UAE's capital Abu Dhabi on Saturday.