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Congress sounds poll bugle with farmers' rally

Party chief Sonia Gandhi and PM Manmohan Singh attack the BJP for neglecting the farm sector and for its handling of terrorism.
PTI | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAR 09, 2008 10:01 PM IST

Riding high on the "historic" farm loan waiver, Congress on Sunday virtually launched its election campaign with party chief Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh attacking the BJP for neglecting the farm sector and for its handling of terrorism.

"Ulta Chor Kotwal Ko Daante (pot calling the kettle black)," Gandhi said addressing the party's 'Dhanyavad Rally' at the historic Ramlila Maidan in New Delhi, launching an attack on the BJP.

Gandhi especially targeted BJP's Prime Ministerial candidate LK Advani, while Singh criticised the erstwhile BJP-led NDA government for "neglecting" the interests of farmers.

A highlight of the rally was Prime Minister's assurance that the farm loan waiver would be implemented by June this year, which is significant in the wake of questions being asked as to how the scheme would be put into operation.

"I promise you that there will be no laxity in implementing the decision and the whole package would be implemented by June," he said amidst applause by the huge crowd that comprised a large number of farmers from nearby states like Haryana, Punjab and UP.

Both Gandhi and Singh refrained from making any reference to the controversial Indo-US nuclear deal. External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee also did not mention the issue, limiting himself to the pro-farmer steps taken by the UPA Government.

At the same time, Gandhi voiced the party's concern on price rise, but said while there were international factors behind it, untiring efforts were on to tackle the problem.

Taking on the opposition party on the issue of terrorism, Gandhi reminded that militant attacks on Raghunath and Akshardham temples as well as Parliament and the Kandahar hijack episode took place under the tenure of Advani as Home Minister.

Without naming Advani, she said while a senior leader of the BJP levelled accusations against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament, the Congress does not need their certificate.

"Our opponents can keep on spreading rumours and making accusations against us. We are not bothered. Our UPA government will continue to tread the path of progress," Gandhi said.

Gandhi, in an apparent reference to the anti-North Indian campaign in Maharashtra, also declared that there should be no leniency towards those stoking regional and communal passions.

"Unity and integrity are the basic conditions for the progress of the nation and to fight terrorism. There should be no leniency towards those who seek to discriminate on the basis of religion and region," she said.

Hailing the Rs 60,000 crore farm loan waiver as a "historic" decision, the Prime Minister said there was nothing wrong in the move that would help the small farmer who is reeling under several problems.

"I don't consider it as a burden on the Government but a duty towards them. In bad times, we even waive off the debts of big industrialists," Singh noted, adding the move would do a lot of good for the farmers and also improve the balance sheets of banks.

The rally, held within 10 days of presentation of the Union Budget, came at a time when a virtual race is on in the ruling alliance to take credit for the farm loan waiver.

The rally was an exclusively Congress affair and was held at a time when the talk of mid-term elections by October-November this year was doing the rounds.

Gandhi alleged the saffron party was now shedding crocodile tears over farmer's issues and noted that the one and only reason for the distress of the farming community were the policies of the previous "NDA government".

"The Budget has made special provisions for farmers, SC/ST communities and labourers. The new Budget is a poor man's budget, a budget of the common man, of the farmer and of the youth," Gandhi said.

Both Singh and Gandhi highlighted the UPA Government's flagship NREGA programme, with the Prime Minister saying he believed that the scheme would rid the country of abject poverty in the next four to five years.

While both leaders painted the NDA rule as black as regards the farmer, the Prime Minister asserted that the steps taken by his Government for their welfare were "historic". "We have given a new direction to the farm sector," he said.

Gandhi also mentioned the pro-women announcements in the Budget, such as tax exemptions and the increase in the honorarium of Anganwadi workers.

The refrain of speakers at the rally, who included PCC chiefs and Chief Ministers, was that Congress was the lone party that cared for the farmer and the common man and it has taken several steps like ushering in the Green Revolution.

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