Congress’ Sonia Gandhi hits out at ‘black’ farm laws
The Congress celebrated its 136th foundation day on Monday, with interim president Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra using the occasion to extend their support to the farmers’ protest against a set of contentious agricultural laws, but Rahul Gandhi’s decision to skip it for a quick overseas visit cast its shadow on the event.
Party veteran A.K.Antony hoisted the party flag at the Congress headquarters in New Delhi to commemorate its 28 December, 1885 foundation. Sonia Gandhi and former party president Rahul Gandhi, who left on Sunday on a visit abroad, weren’t present on the occasion.
Sonia Gandhi, who has been avoiding public functions in recent weeks, extended her warm wishes to party workers and backed the farmers’ protest in a 3-minute, 45-second video message. She asserted that “black laws” were being imposed on the farmers.
“We have to strengthen the Congress party at the ground level. … let us take a vow today that we will uphold the constitution and democratic values that our country represents,” she said.
The Congress celebrated its foundation day against the backdrop of a protest by thousands of farmers, mainly from northern India, who have massed on Delhi’s borders in the winter cold since November 26 to protest against the three farm laws enacted in September by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA government.
The protestors are demanding that the Centre revoke the three laws, which essentially change the way India’s farmers do business by creating free markets, as opposed to a network of decades-old, government marketplaces, allowing traders to stockpile essential commodities for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming.
Together, the laws will allow big corporations and global supermarket chains to buy directly from farmers, bypassing decades-old regulations. Farmers say the reforms will make them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations, erode their bargaining power and weaken the government’s procurement system, whereby the government buys staples, such as wheat and rice, at guaranteed rates known as minimum support prices (MSPs).
Priyanka Gandhi, who was present at the flag hoisting ceremony at the party headquarters, said the government, which has accused the opposition parties of misleading the farmers, should listen to the protestors.
“To say that this is a political conspiracy is wrong. I feel that the words being used for farmers are a sin. The government is answerable to the farmers and the government should talk to the farmers and take back the laws,” she said. She said soldiers protecting India’s borders are the sons of farmers and the government should understand that farmers are the “annadatas” (food givers) of the country.
Farmers’ leaders, who ended negotiations with the government claiming a stalemate after meeting home minister Amit Shah on December 8, are set to resume the talks on Wednesday. The government has said it is willing to offer a written guarantee that minimum support prices would continue, but refused to repeal the laws.
She didn’t comment on Rahul Gandhi’s overseas visit. Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala confirmed that Gandhi had left the country on a visit abroad, but did not disclose the location. “Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has left for abroad for a short personal visit and will be away for a few days,” Surjewala told PTI.
The ruling BJP questioned the timing of Gandhi’s visit.
“So much of noise was made for farmers’ protest by the opp (opposition), where is #RG now? Short holiday? Seriously? If you are so concerned about the farmers, you should have been out there on the streets with them n not holidaying,” BJP leader Khusbhu Sundar wrote on Twitter.
Congress general secretary (organization) KC Venugopal defended Rahul Gandhi. “Rahul Gandhi has gone to see his grandmother. Is it wrong,” Venugopal told ANI. “Everybody has the right to undertake personal visits. BJP is indulging in low-level politics. They are targeting Rahul Gandhi because they want to target only one leader.”