New Delhi: Making his first public appearance after his nearly two-month long absence, Rahul Gandhi today declared that he will oppose tooth and nail the Land Acquisition Bill and make the government heed to their demands for its withdrawal.
Holding two interactive sessions with farmers and their representatives from various states at his residence a day before the party's Kisan rally here, the Congress Vice President told them that he and his party will fight a “decisive battle” on farmers' issues including the NDA's Land Acquisition Bill, according to party leaders.
Farmer leaders said that Gandhi asked them what were their views on the new land law brought by the Modi government, how much damage has happened to their crop due to unseasonal rain and hailstorm recently and what is the rate at which the government is purchasing their produce.
Some of the farmers, who took part in the first 50-minute interaction with him, rued that people who had no understanding of grassroot issues and knowledge of agriculture are engaged in drafting policies for them, be it the present Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) government or the earlier Congress-led government at the Centre.
Sources in the party said that Rahul has decided to speak in entirety on the issue at the Kisan rally tomorrow and he could also intervene on it in Lok Sabha as the second part of the Budget session begins on Monday.
During the interaction, some old farmers from Bhiwani in Haryana addressed him as “Chaudhury Rahulji”, as they tried to attract his attention in the crowd.
There were also some complaints that the Kisan Rally is being organized at a time when the harvesting season is on but party's communication department in-charge Randeep Surjewala downplayed the issue, saying there is no season for raising farmers' issues.
“Rahul told farmers that he will fight a decisive battle on the issues facing them. He said that Congress will not let this fight be over in a day, a month or an year. He said that he will force the government to bow down before the farmers and he will take the fight to a logical conclusion,” party leaders said.
The delegation included farmers from Bhatta Parsaul village from where Rahul had launched a “padyatra” in 2011 against forcible land acquisition, a protest that had culminated in passage of Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013.
In the first closed door interaction with farmers' representatives from various states including two from Bhatta Parsaul, Gandhi talked at length about the impact of the new land law on farmers and the perception in the countryside.
AICC general secretary Gurudas Kamath, Rajasthan PCC chief Sachin Pilot, UPCC chief Nirmal Khatri, AICC Scheduled Caste Department Chairman K Raju and Naseeb Pathan were present in the interaction.
The farmers representative also sought time from Rahul to meet again for a slide show and power point presentation on farmers' issues.
After the meeting, Rahul came out to meet hundreds of farmers waiting outside and interacted with them outside his residence for close to 40 minutes during which some of the farmers also showed him the crop damaged due to hailstorm.
Some of the old farmers were seen blessing him and hugging him as he reached out to them amid tight security.
Rahul did not speak to the large media contingent parked outside his residence.
Party General Secretary Shakeel Ahmed said after the meeting that “the echo of the issues raised by farmers with Rahul Gandhi will be heard in Ramlila ground tomorrow.
“Parliament session is also starting from Monday. Farmers issues especially related to land acquisition, crop loss and Minimum Support Price will be raised both inside and outside Parliament. Congress will raise these issues strongly,” he said.
Asked whether Rahul will raise the issue in Parliament, the leader said, “Naturally. He is listening to the issues of farmers. Naturally these issues are raised. Rahul was not present during the earlier session as he was on leave. We apprehend that the Modi government will try to pass the bill to replace the land ordinance again in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.
“That is why we kept the rally on the eve of the session. Rahulji strongly feels that that we will not allow farmers' interests to be compromised,” Ahmed said.
The farmers mostly included those from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh.
The Congress Vice President, who is expected to lead the party charge on the contentious land bill, will address the Kisan rally tomorrow, which is being seen as some sort of a relaunch of Rahul, who is being hailed as a “mature” leader who would restore the party's health after its downturn in Lok Sabha polls.
“Tomorrow's rally would be a historic rally. Lakhs of farmers from across the country will get together in Delhi and we want to expose this BJP government for the way farmers have been duped only to pay back favours of some people. The BJP is ‘conspiring' to take over the land of small farmers,” Pilot said.
Senior leader from Haryana Kiran Chaudhury said farmers will “puncture the arrogance” of Modi government and have decided to fight for their right under the leadership of Congress.
In a press release, the party later said that Gandhi assured the farmers that their pain, suffering and anguish are closest to his heart and Congress stands with the entire farming community in this hour of unprecedented calamity and “government-driven” crisis.
He told them that finding a solution and taking up this fight would be first agenda of Congress. He also assured the delegations of farmers that he and the Congress will lead a decisive fight inside and outside Parliament and will take it to a logical conclusion.
“He called upon farmers present as also lakhs of farmers and landless labourers to come to Ramlila Ground tomorrow to participate and lend their voice to the mass struggle for finding a decisive solution,” the party said in the release.
Some of the farmers, who had come to meet him were carrying destroyed food grains including blackened wheat crop while others were carrying photographs of acute farmers' distress.
“Farmers and landless labourers told Gandhi about Modi government's complete apathy in procuring Rabi crops, particularly wheat.
“They said that while wheat and other Rabi crops are lying in open in grain markets, government is not procuring the same at the Minimum Support Price of Rs 1,450 per quintal on the plea that crop had moisture content over 14 per cent and that crop had either shriveled or shrunk or got blackened on account of incessant rains and hailstorms,” the party said.
It also claimed that farmers alleged “criminal negligence” on the part of Modi government and state governments in not giving compensation pointing out that over 200 lakh hectares of Rabi crop had been completely destroyed in 14 different states.
“All the farmers were vocal and unanimous in their resolve to oppose the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance of Modi government which seeks to snatch away their land, their livelihood and their life.
“They pleaded with Congress vice president to carry on the fight he took up at Bhatta Parsaul, UP, which had led to passing of the Right to Fair Compensation Act, 2013, and the spirit of which was being decimated by the current BJP government,” the party said.