Brushing aside opposition criticism that his visits to dalit households was a political stunt, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said he doesn't believe in the caste system and his purpose was to reach out to the poor people.
"I personally don't believe in caste system...I go to a human being's house and not a dalit's house," he told reporters in Thiruvananthapuram.
He said it was the media which saw his trips to rural households as visits to dalit houses.
"The frame of dalit is your frame, not mine...I ask my office to arrange for my visit to a poor person's home in the poorest village. You see him as a dalit, I see him as a poor person," he said.
He said he meets a tea vendor and a university student on the same lines. "I don't ask him (tea stall vendor) whether he is a dalit...the difference is in the opportunities. They are as intelligent and as smart as you, but had no opportunity to go to a university-- that is the only difference," he said.
Replying to a question, he said his learning process will end the day "I die". "The day I die I will stop learning. I hope I will continue to learn till the day I die," he said, adding "learning is action and action is learning."
To a poser on the reaction of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati on his visits to poor households, he said he would continue with his programme despite protests by the BSP chief.
Chiding Mayawati for ridiculing his visits to dalit households, Gandhi said, "If she doesn't like it, my apologies to her".
Rahul expressed confidence that his party will come to power in UP but did not want to hazard a guess when it will happen.
"I can guarantee that this is going to happen and people are going to be proud of the Congress government in the state," he said.
Asked about other Congress leaders in UP trying to emulate him, Gandhi was non-committal. "You ask them".
He also dismissed speculation that his visits to Kerala and West Bengal were part of a strategy to make inroads in the Red bastion.
Gandhi also came to the defence of Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor, who has come under attack for twitting. "I get the sense that he is working hard for the country," he said.
On Tharoor's view that Gandhi Jayanti should not be a holiday, he said the minister has the right to have his opinion.
Gandhi said he was comfortable with the idea of observing a holiday on October 2 but If the government decided otherwise, it was fine with him. "It won't make a difference to Gandhiji."
"I don't really have a personal view on it. I don't think everybody should be opinionated on every single issue. I am comfortable whether it is a holiday or not," Gandhi said.
On apprehensions that the recent Free Trade Agreement with ASEAN would hurt the interest of Kerala farmers, he said, "Nothing will be done to damage" their interests. On the upcoming Assembly polls in Maharashtra, he said, "We will do well. We have a strong alliance with NCP in the state".
On the hue and cry made by the Left in Kerala on the harfmul effects of ASEAN free trade pact, Gandhi said there were enough safeguards in the agreement to protect the interests of farmers in Kerala.
Crops in Kerala were either included in the negative or special list.So the pact would not have adverse fallout on the state,he said.
"There is worry in the minds of farmers in Kerala. But the Government at the Centre will not allow the farmers of Kerala to suffer."
On CPI-M making it a campaign theme in the three assembly bye-polls due in Kerala, he said the LDF was welcome to make it a poll issue, adding "nothing we do is going to affect the interests of Kerala.
Rahul said, the "inability" of state governments to reach out to the people was one of the reasons for spread of Naxalism in some states. In states like Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh or Orissa, the Governments were not reaching out to the people, which was one reason behind spread of Naxalism, he said.
Wherever there was development and democratic system, this problem was not there, he said, maintaining that it was his personal view.
'There are experts in the government who know how to combat Naxalism. But my view is that there is a connection between Naxalism and local governments' inability to reach out to people and lack of development", Gandhi said.