Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s farmer outreach programme in poll-bound states is aimed at striking a chord with the community that is disillusioned with the political class for its “failure” to address the problems of the agriculture sector.
Gandhi’s 26-day kisan yatra in Uttar Pradesh and now his proposed 10-day farmers’ outreach in Punjab primarily focuses on three major demands – loan waiver, increased minimum support price (MSP) and reduction in their power bills by 50%.
“Rahul Gandhi’s effort to take up the agrarian distress issue is very daring, futuristic and covers a domain which has been completely ignored by other political parties,” said Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst.
Political analysts suggest that the farmers’ issue may not have immediate resonance in Uttar Pradesh elections but could alter the poll outcome in Punjab where the community is a deciding factor. Farmers, who constitute an estimated 50% of the total population in Punjab, play a key role in any poll outcome in the state.
Like Bihar, the Uttar Pradesh politics is dominated by caste and religious factors though these had negligible impact on the 2014 Lok Sabha election results from the state where the BJP won 71 of the total 80 seats.
“Rahul Gandhi has taken up the right issue as the farmers’ plight could not have been ignored for long. It may also help in the Congress resurgence to some extent especially in UP and Punjab,” said Prof Balveer Arora, a political analyst.
The BJP-led NDA government has faced flak for its handling of the agrarian crisis with the Congress alleging that Prime Minister Narendra Modi “failed” to keep his poll promise to beleaguered farmers. Gandhi has repeatedly accused the Prime Minister of siding with the corporate sector and ignoring the farmers. The Congress also cites the National Crime Record Bureau figures to corner the Modi government over farmers’ suicides.
The number of suicides by farmers and farm labourers increased to 12,360 in 2014 from 11,772 in 2013. Out of these, 5,650 were farmers and 6,710 agriculture labourers. Long droughts, poor yields, indebtedness and unseasonal rains are said to be the contributing factors for the rise in such deaths.
During his 26-day yatra across UP, Gandhi travelled 3,438-km and covered 48 districts and 141 assembly constituencies. He also held 26 khat sabhas (interaction with farmers on cots), 26 road shows and collected 75 lakh application forms from farmers seeking loan waiver. “Our target is to collect 2 crore forms from Uttar Pradesh by October 31,” Congress spokesman RPN Singh said. The yatra had started from Deoria on September 6 and culminated at Parliament Street in Delhi on October 6.
This was the first time the 46-year-old leader undertook such an extensive campaign that lasted 26 days. During the course of his political career, which began in 2004 when he was elected to the 14th Lok Sabha from Amethi, Gandhi has never led such a no-break exercise lasting for almost four weeks.
The maximum time he has spent in a poll-bound state was during the 2012 assembly elections—again, in the politically-vital UP. On that occasion, he had addressed back-to-back rallies in Gorakhpur, Deoria, Ballia, Mau and Azamgarh districts for five days at a stretch.
The campaign from November 2011 to February 2012 saw Gandhi addressing 211 public meetings across UP in 48 days. It was a record of sorts at the time, but the party failed to cash in, and ended up winning just 28 seats in the 403-member state assembly.
It remains to be seen if Gandhi is able to strike the chord with farmers this time in a bid to revive his party’s fortunes not only in UP or Punjab but across the country by 2019 when the next general elections are due. While there is still time for that, he has already earned the praise from some quarters.
“Farmers are disillusioned and no political leader stands by them. For his part, Rahul Gandhi is doing a remarkable work and showing the way to others,” Sharma said.