Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi on Saturday called for the overthrow of the Bahujan Samaj Party government in Uttar Pradesh, which he accused of "taking over farmers' lands and turning them into racing tracks and golf courses".Addressing an estimated 40,000-strong mahapanchayat of farmers to mark the conclusion of his 70-km, four-day-long padyatra along the under-construction Yamuna Expressway to interact with dispossessed farmers, Gandhi said: "UP needs a sensitive government."
The allied development along the expressway, which includes townships, industrial clusters and an F1 racing track, will require 44,000 hectares of mostly farm land and affect an estimated one million people.
Rejecting criticism that his march through 31 of the 1,200 hamlets along the 165-km expressway was a "drama" - UP chief minister Mayawati had called it a "nautanki" - he said: "Farmers must get market price for their land."
Many dispossessed farmers are unhappy at the inadequate compensation offered by the UP government.
"Farmers must be consulted beforehand, as in Haryana… Haryana and UP both acquire land using the same law, but the process is friendly and remunerative for farmers in Haryana, which is ruled by the Congress," he added.
Most farmers from the villages Gandhi toured, however, maintained an ambiguous attitude towards the Congress.
"Elections are far away; we will decide then," said Ravinder Singh, a farmer from Katelia village, who saw in the campaign an opportunity to get a better bargain.
These feelings are corroborated by a Hindustan Times-Gfk Mode opinion poll on farmers' reactions to Gandhi's padyatra.
Most of the 40,000-odd people who turned up at the mahapanchayat, braving intermittent rains, were Congress sympathisers, limiting Gandhi's attempts to raise the discussion on land above party politics and thereby expand his party's base.
Also, Dalits, who form the core of the BSP's support base, do not own much land and are scattered across the state. So, Gandhi's programme may not impact them much.
The Congress general secretary said he would push for amendments in the Land Acquisition Act, which allows for unilateral acquisitions, but emphasised that laws are not enough.
Gandhi had been repeatedly asked why the Congress-led government at the Centre has not amended the act, a proposal that has been pending.
"We have to take all states and parties along before we can do that," he had explained.