Aggrieved fishermen in coastal Kerala found an aggressive Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi by their side on Wednesday as he accused the Narendra Modi government of taking away the livelihood of the fishing community.
Tension is brewing in Kerala over the Centre’s decision to extend a trawling ban from 45 days to 61 days to protect marine health as well as an expert committee report that suggested fresh guidelines for deep sea fishing.
Gandhi, who had raised the trawler issue during the budget session of Parliament, said his party would soon launch a nationwide agitation to protect the rights of farmers and fishermen.
“Land is the farmer’s mother, the sea is your mother and they want to take that away and give it to someone else,” Gandhi said at the fishing hamlet of Chavakkad on the second day of his Kerala visit.
“We are going to fight for every single person who feels oppressed ... we are not scared of Narendra Modi or his five or six friends in suits,” he said, reprising his “suit-boot ki sarkar” catchphrase against the NDA government.
Prime Minister Modi hit back in New Delhi, saying the Congress has not been able to digest its crushing defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. “The people have punished them for their sins of omission and commission. We thought they would learn from this, but it looks as though they are proving right the earlier saying that if con is the opposite of pro, then Congress is the opposite of progress,” he said.
Gandhi has been leading a relentless Opposition offensive against the Modi government since his return from a nearly two-month sabbatical, forcing the ruling NDA to refer the land acquisition as well as goods and services tax (GST) bills to parliamentary committees for review.
On Wednesday, the Congress leader vowed to safeguard the rights of farmers, fisherfolk and tribals.
“They (the Centre) should be very, very careful, about who they are confronting," he said, peppering his speech with anecdotes from his recent visits to Telangana, Maharashtra and Punjab where he met weather-affected farmers. “The NDA government is not picking a fight with poor fishermen, farmers and tribals, but with the soul of the country.”
India is the world’s second largest producer of fish after China and the industry provides livelihood to nearly 14 million people. Experts say outdated techniques have hit India’s output.
(With agency inputs)