Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday made his first public appearance after his return from a nearly two-month break earlier this week. The event was tailor-made and carefully crafted by his party, which called it an interaction with farmers, although many of those who met Rahul admitted they had an old association with the Congress.
“I am an old soldier of the Congress. I will participate in Sunday’s rally as well. I will bring around 100-200 people,” said Kashmiri Lal from Firozabad village in Sirsa district of Haryana. He was among the 24 farmers who interacted with Rahul at his 12, Tughlaq Lane residence. He said state PCC chief Ashok Tanwar asked him to come to Delhi.
Waiting outside were hundreds of farmers, brought by Congress leaders from Haryana, Punjab, Rajasthan and Delhi. Rahul came out and met all of them. The interaction was part of the build-up for the party’s rally against the land acquisition Bill at Ramlila Maidan on Sunday, as it pulls out all the stops to play the farmer card.
The build-up is crucial since the government is set to table the amended Bill in Parliament, which reconvenes on Monday. Senior leaders A K Antony and Digvijaya Singh, part of the special committee set up to oversee the preparations for tomorrow’s rally, also met Rahul separately.
Senior party leader K Raju said the 24 farmers were handpicked by the state units of Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Rajasthan. Rajasthan PCC chief Sachin Pilot said he had selected real farmers so that Rahul gets a first-hand account of their problems.
But the farmers confirmed that they were Congress voters. “I was told by Captain Ajay Yadav (former Haryana minister) to come here. I have voted for Congress all my life,” said Ashok Yadav, from Meerpur village in Riwari district.
The farmers raised some pressing problems. While land acquisition is not an immediate concern, it is a lingering worry for them.
Those from Haryana spoke about lack of procurement by the government and discussed the damage they suffered due to the unseasonal rains and hailstorm. “All our crops have been damaged. We have not got any compensation from the government. The government is not procuring whatever is left. And in mandis, private companies are buying at very cheap rates. There seems to be a deal between the government and these private firms,” said Surender Sangwan from Bhiwani district, one of those who met Rahul.
Farmers from Rajasthan expressed concern about the hike in electricity charges and damage to crops. They said Rahul listened to them patiently and explained the changes made by the NDA government in the land Bill.
A statement issued by the AICC said Rahul “assured them that the pain, suffering and anguish of the entire farming community are closest to his heart… that the Congress stands with the entire farming community in this hour of unprecedented calamity and government-driven crisis”.
“He reaffirmed his commitment to farmers. It was Rahul who took up the cause of farmers in Bhatta Parsual, which culminated in the passage of the land Bill. Why has the BJP made a volte face now, it had supported the UPA Bill,” said Pilot. The delegation included farmers from Bhatta Parsaul also.
Among the hundreds who met Rahul later were Congress workers and farmers from neighbouring states. Asked who had brought them there, many of them proudly identified their leaders — Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Ashok Tanwar, Ajay Maken, Sajjan Kumar, Captain Ajay Yadav, Sachin Pilot, Kiran Choudhary among others.
All the neighbouring state units have been given targets for tomorrow’s rally, with the party looking at drawing a crowd of over one lakh people. Party leaders said close to 40,000 people are expected from Rajasthan itself. “We are bringing people in 400 buses and 5000 small vehicles. A special train, Kisan Express, will also leave Jaipur tomorrow morning,” Pilot said.
Meanwhile, independent farmer bodies said land acquisition is not an immediate threat for farmers. “Land acquisition is extremely important. But it is a threat for 2 to 3 per cent of the farmers. The real problem is price. Farmers are not getting adequate price for their produce. The Congress, which was in power for 10 years, must explain why they did not implement the Swaminathan Committee report. The BJP government too has not thought about farmers,” said Changal Reddy, secretary general, Consortium of Indian Farmers Association.