Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is undertaking a 15-kilometre padyatra in Telangana's Adilabad district on Friday to meet families of farmers who have allegedly committed suicide and rally the cause of the distressed farmers in the state.
Gandhi handed over a cheque worth Rs 2 lakhs to the family of farmer Rajeshwar who committed suicide, in Koritkal.
Gandhi's two-day visit to the state is part of an effort to reach out to the farmers and poor, as he aims to channel rural angst against the NDA government's policies to breathe new life into his party that has been hit by a flurry of electoral defeats.
The 44-year-old lawmaker is travelling to Telangana after trips to rural Maharashtra and Punjab amid a spate of farmer suicides that have underscored the challenges before the newborn state.
Gandhi will cover 5 villages in Adilabad district, where he will meet the families of farmers who have allegedly committed suicide due to the agricultural crisis and talk to distressed agriculturists.
"His visit is meant to instil confidence among farmers that suicide is not a solution. It would also highlight the agony of the Telangana farmer under (chief minister) KCR's administration, which even failed to deliver on its promise of farm loan waiver," said state Congress leader Mallu Bhatti Vikramarka.
Gandhi will also address farmers at Koratikal village at around 4pm at the end of his padayatra.
In a sudden change of schedule, the Congress vice-president skipped Hyderabad from his Telangana itinerary and landed in Naded in Maharashtra on Thursday to take a road route to Nirmal in Adilabad.
The reason, state Congress leaders said, was a delay during a meeting in New Delhi.
He was earlier scheduled to arrive in Hyderabad and interact with students of the Osmania University and party workers at the airport and then proceed to Nirmal, from where he is slated to undertake the padyatra.
The Congress vice-president would spend the night in Adilabad, senior Congress leader and former minister D Sridhar Babu told PTI.
Nine districts of Telangana witnessed 840 suicides till the end of March since the state was carved out of Andhra Pradesh on June 2 last year, said activist B Kondala Reddy.
Opposition parties in Telangana have alleged that hundreds of farmers have committed suicide due to agrarian crisis since the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) government came to power last year, a charge denied by the administration.
Despite mounting an aggressive campaign and claiming credit for separate statehood of Telangana, Congress had lost elections last year to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) led by chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao or KCR as his popularly known.
The Congress in Telangana is looking at Gandhi's visit as a morale booster to the party's rank and file.
State Congress leaders said the visit will not only help them corner the chief minister on the matter of farm suicides but also galvanise the cadre to confront the government on other issues.
They, however, said this visit is to primarily focus on the plight of the farmers.
"Rahul's campaign is meant to highlight the woes of the farmers in the country in general and that of the state in particular," said Vikramarka.
'Just another tour'
The Telangana government and the TRS party, however, dismissed Gandhi's padyatra with CM KCR brushing it off as yet another tour by the Gandhis.
"(These) Gandhis come and go," he said.
KCR's daughter and Lok Sabha MP Kalvakuntla Kavitha said that anyone is welcome in the state, "but they should also share a solution to the problem and not just seek political gain."
"It is a political tour and is ridiculous on the part of the Congress, which ruled for 50 years to now highlight the farmers' troubles. Anyhow, if Mr Gandhi can come up with a solution for the problem after his tour, then let him share it with us so that we can implement it to better the farming sector," Kavitha told HT.
Irrigation minister Harish Rao though launched a sharp attack on Gandhi and said he should first apologise to the farmer families on behalf of the Congress party for it was in power the last 10 years in the state and the centre and is responsible for the plight of farmers.
Since his return from a nearly eight-week-long sabbatical, the Amethi MP has led the Congress offensive against the Centre's land acquisition and agricultural policies – tearing into the government in Parliament over farmers' problems apart from meeting distraught peasants in several states.
(With inputs from PTI)
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