Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi will visit the troubled jute belt and meet jobless workers in West Bengal’s Hooghly district on Saturday, a first by a high-profile national leader to tour the crumbling industrial zone in years.
The visit comes at a time when the industry is going through one of its worst crisis as 16 of 56 jute mills in the state have remained shut for over a month now, leaving more than 70,000 workers without a livelihood.
“Gandhi will speak to workers outside the campus of Wellington jute mill at Rishra on Saturday morning. He wants to understand their problems and try to figure a way out,” Congress state unit general secretary Amitabha Chakraborty said on Friday.
Located at the heart of the jute mill belt in Bengal, Rishra’s jobless workers fear the factories would soon shut shop.
Since his return from a 52-day vacation, Gandhi has been spearheading the Congress’s campaign against the Narendra Modi government’s land acquisition bill and travelling across the country, meeting farmers and fishermen. The Bengal visit will add jute workers to the list.
The jute industry has been the subject of a political blame game as the ruling Trinamool Congress accuses the Centre of creating the crisis by gradual de-reservation of jute bags for packing foodgrain. Industry captains said the state government, too, was not taking necessary steps.
They hope Gandhi’s visit will draw attention to the crisis. “As long as Pranab Mukherjee was in the Union cabinet, we had someone to take up the jute issue. We have none since he became President,” a mill owner said.
Mill owners have cited various reasons, including lack of orders from the government, low productivity and indiscipline among workers to close down mills.
“We know the BJP will not take up this issue because their central leaders are more inclined towards the synthetic lobby. If Rahul Gandhi raises the issue, both the Centre and state government would be under pressure to do something,” said Ramesh Paswan, a worker at Wellington mill.
Gandhi will also meet party workers in Kolkata to boost their morale, which has hit an all-time low because of unprecedented defection of Congress elected representatives to the Trinamool Congress.