In his first public appearance after a 53-day sabbatical, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday vowed to lead a “decisive fight” against the government’s land acquisition law, but his party ran into a controversy amid reports it was offering free liquor to drum up support for a Delhi rally.
Interacting with farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab at his 12 Tughlak Lane residence ahead of Sunday’s public meeting at the Capital’s Ramlila Ground, Gandhi told them the “pain, suffering and anguish of the entire farming community are closest to my heart”.
To ensure the anti-land law rally’s success, Congress sources in Punjab said all sitting party MLAs and candidates who lost last year’s polls were asked by the party’s state in-charge, Shakeel Ahmad, to bring two buses packed with supporters from each constituency.
“We are not promising any money to those going for the rally. But we have provided for two boxes of liquor per bus,” said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named.
The expenses for each bus ferrying farmers from Punjab would add up to about Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000, said sources, including the cost of hiring the vehicle, fuel, food and “drinks”.
“Many people will also reach Delhi in private vehicles. There would be at least 200 people from each constituency. So there will be over 20,000 from Punjab alone,” said state Congress chief Partap Singh Bajwa.
However, party leaders said luring farmers to the rally at a time when wheat harvesting is on would prove difficult.
“We told them the rally is for their land rights. We are ensuring they get proper food and refreshments. Though we are not serving them any liquor, at times they ask for it or bring it on their own,” said Joginder Singh, Congress MLA from Jaito.
Party sources said Gandhi will talk about farmers’ issues including the land legislation, compensation and minimal increase in minimum support price for rabi and kharif crops at the rally and may also raise these concerns in the Lok Sabha during the second part of the budget session that begins on Monday.
The farmers informed him about the massive damage to crops caused by unseasonable rain and hailstorms and urged him to carry on the fight he started against forcible land acquisition from Uttar Pradesh’s Bhatta Parsaul villages in 2011, sources said.
After meeting the delegations, the Amethi MP stepped out to interact with farmers and landless labourers waiting outside his residence amid slogans of “Kisan neta Rahul Gandhi (farmer leader, Rahul Gandhi)” and “Kisanon ke hitaishi Rahul Gandhi (well-wisher of farmers, Rahul Gandhi)”. Some elderly farmers were also seen blessing and hugging him.