Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi marched under a scorching sun through the dusty villages of Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region on Thursday as he accused the government of abandoning farmers, stepping up efforts to corner the ruling BJP over the agrarian crisis and land legislation.
The Amethi MP launched his “sanvad padyatra” from Gunji village in Amravati district, aiming to channel rural angst against the Narendra Modi government’s policies to breathe new life into his party that has been hit by a flurry of electoral defeats over the past year.
“I have come to Vidarbha earlier too but I have never seen a grim situation like this. My interaction with the farmers was very disturbing. There was a feeling of abandonment in Vidarbha. The farmers feel that they have been left to fend for themselves in absence of any tangible government support,” the 44-year-old said. “Loan waiver, minimum support price, bonus are some of their prime concerns.”
Gandhi walked about 15 kilometres through villages that have seen highest number of farmer suicides this year and interacted with nine farm widows as party workers holding up Congress flags flanked him.
“This government is not a government for small businesses, the poor, the needy or the farmers. It is a government for a few capitalists,” he said at the end of the journey.
“The government is supposed to protect the farmers. But the farmers here feel that the government has abandoned them.”
Since his return from a nearly eight-week sabbatical, Gandhi has led the Congress offensive against the government’s land acquisition and agricultural policies – speaking twice in Parliament on farmers’ problems apart from addressing a peasants’ rally in the Capital.
“In Haryana, some people have called farmers cowards. It is because of statements like these that I have come here,” the opposition leader said, taking a dig at Haryana agriculture minister OP Dhankar.
Gandhi had visited Vidarbha’s farmers seven years ago when he drew attention to the plight of Kalavati Bandurkar, the widow of a farmer who committed suicide, and her struggle to survive and educate her children.
As the Congress vice-president met farmers in Vidarbha, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis sough to remind him that it was his party (Congress) that ruled the state till recently and everybody knew what was the condition of farmers during the 15-year rule of Democratic Front government.
"We (BJP-led government) have been here for six months... they ruled for 15 years. Everyone knew what was the condition of farmers (during Congress-NCP rule)," said the CM, who assumed office in October last year.
The CM also said his government was ready to accept suggestions from him to improve the condition of peasants but he should avoid playing politics over farm issues.
"If Rahul Gandhi has come to Vidarbha to understand the problems of farmers, it is a good thing and we will accept his suggestions to improve their lives. But, if he wants to indulge in politics, we would ignore," he told reporters in Mumbai.
"Rahulji has every right to meet farmers and review the situation...If he has good suggestions we will certainly look at them," he said.
Fadnavis said the BJP-Shiv Sena government was doing everything that is possible to help farmers, who have faced crop losses due to unseasonal rains and hailstorms, and bring them out of the prevailing situation.
Maharashtra is one of the states that has experienced severe agrarian crisis, and Amravati division in Vidarbha has witnessed many farmer suicides this year.