Page last updated at 07:13 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Miliband spends night in village

David Miliband and Rahul Gandhi in Amethi
Mr Miliband's visit was kept a closely-guarded secret Photo: Alok Srivastava

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband has spent a night in a house belonging to an "untouchable" in an Indian village.

He also met Rahul Gandhi, son of the ex-prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, in what was labelled as a get-together of two leaders in waiting.

Mr Gandhi is widely tipped one day to lead the Congress party, while Mr Miliband has faced constant speculation over his leadership ambitions.

The two men arrived in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday.

Traditional meal

They stayed in a village in the constituency of Amethi, which has long been associated with the Gandhi family.

Mr Miliband was invited by Rahul Gandhi to stay in the village.

Villager with cow dung to be used for fuel
Many Indian villagers rely on subsistence labour

Reports say that Mr Miliband stayed the night in a thatched house belonging to an "untouchable" and slept on a "charpoy" - a string bed built on a wooden frame.

He was also offered a traditional village meal.

The house was described by the Press Trust of India news agency as a "typical village household complete with cows and buffaloes".

Mr Miliband and Mr Gandhi also met local self-help groups run by women and attended a literacy programme and dairy development activities.

A British foreign office spokesman had said ahead of Mr Miliband's visit to the village that it would be a chance for the foreign secretary to "see what life is like outside the cities".

The Indian press had a more colourful take on proceedings.

One commentator described it as "a coming together of two dynamic, forward-thinking and charismatic politicians who look set to play key leadership roles in their countries later in the 21st century".

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