Rahul Gandhi kick-starts Gujarat election campaign, woos youth and farmers
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Rahul Gandhi kick-starts Gujarat election campaign, woos youth and farmers

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi criticised Prime Minister Modi for demonetisation, introduction of GST and the “Gujarat model” of development.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2017 22:55 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Dwarka/Jamnagar
Rahul Gandhi,Gujarat election,Congress
Rahul Gandhi sips tea with an Ahir family at Hanjrapar village on Monday during the first day of his Navsarjan Yatra. (HT Photo)

Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi began on Monday his Gujarat campaign with a three-day road trip through politically crucial Saurashtra, a Patidar community heartland that has been a stronghold of the ruling BJP for almost three decades.

Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who is spearheading the community’s demand for reservation in education and government jobs, welcomed the Congress leader to Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Congress ke rashtriya upadhyaksh Rahulji ka Gujarat mae hardik swagat hai…,” tweeted Patel, a bitter critic of the state’s BJP government.

The 47-year-old Gandhi started the day by offering prayers at the popular Dwarkadhish temple in Dwarka and promised “yuva rozgar, khedut adhikar”, or jobs for the youth and rights to farmers, during interactions with the people in his journey.

Also, he criticised Prime Minister Modi for last November’s demonetisation exercise that wiped out more than 80% of the cash in circulation, introduction of the goods and services tax (GST) and the “Gujarat model” of development.

“Our Prime Minister Narendra Modiji declared demonetisation without consulting anyone. This was a massive blow to our economy. Farmers were badly hit, as they do not do transactions through phone or debit card. They use cash to buy seeds or pay to farm labourers,” he said.

He took on the government over GST, saying the tax launched in July has broken the back of small traders and shopkeepers. The Congress sought a single tax rate but the government introduced five slabs, thereby forcing thousands of businesses to shut shop, he said.

Sporting a chandan tilak from the Dwarkadhish shrine, he alleged the poor have no place in the Gujarat model of development, which he said benefited only a handful of businessmen.

“I promise our government will be of the poor, farmers and the youth.”

The heavily guarded Congress leader travelled mostly in a bus kitted out with a bed and washroom. But rode a bullock cart too for a short stretch on the Dwarka-Jamnagar route as state police refused permission for a road show on an open-top jeep.

Welcome banners and hoardings lined the route of Gandhi’s tour, named Navsarjan Yatra, of the poll-bound state where his party has been out of power for more than two decades.

Gandhi’s first stop was Baradiya, a village 8km from Dwarka, where he shook hands with a waiting crowd and gave a short speech.

“Be it UP, Rajasthan or Gujarat, the youth is jobless. Modiji had promised two crore jobs. The youth of the country showed faith thinking the promise will be delivered, but did not happen,” he said.

He then asked: “Do you get fair price for your groundnut?” The crowd replied: “No”.

“As you all know, this government in Delhi works only for 5-6 big companies. These companies get all the benefits like land, electricity and water. This is the Gujarat model,” he said.

Gandhi stopped at Hanjrapar, where he rode a bullock cart to show solidarity with the farmers. He sat on a stringed cot or khat and sipped tea from a chaliyu, a brass bowl common in the countryside.

“Chaliyu is used for drinking milk. But we were told Rahulji would prefer tea.” said Pal Ambaliya, who hosted the leader in his home.

When a woman complained that teachers were leaving the village school, Gandhi said the BJP’s policy of encouraging privatisation has made education and healthcare expensive for the common people.

“The government must make sure that people are not deprived of these basic facilities,” Gandhi said and promised free medicines and treatment if the Congress is voted to power in Gujarat.

He accused the BJP government of being anti-farmer and demanded complete farm loan waiver for cultivators in Gujarat.

“If the government can waive loans of businessmen, then why not farmers? The Indian government gave away Rs 1.30 lakh crore to 15 large business houses while Rs 7 lakh crore in loans were not returned to banks. They (businessmen) will get all the benefits, while you (farmers) will be jailed for not repaying loans,” Gandhi said.

At Nandana village, he addressed school children.

“Our country has made huge progress in the 70 years. When we got independence, we did not have many good schools, big universities or companies. Whatever exists today is because of the hard work of your parents as well as grandparents,” he said.

Gandhi also demanded an apology from Modi for police action against students at Banaras Hindu University during a protest against an alleged molestation of a hosteller on the campus.

He said Modi should tender an apology as the incident took place in his constituency, Varanasi.

“The incident at BHU is BJP’s version of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao. And, when they (girls) demand their rights, beat them up. This incident happened in the PM’s constituency. Modiji should apologise to the students of BHU and take immediate action,” he told reporters in Jamnagar.

Gandhi was accompanied by Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and AICC general secretary in-charge of the state Ashok Gehlot.

He will visit towns such as Dhrol and Tankara by road before reaching Rajkot. Gandhi is also scheduled to meet local milk producers and leaders of the cooperative movement.

(With agency inputs)

First Published: Sep 25, 2017 22:53 IST