Rangolis and Suswagatam along the roads welcomed Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi Thursday when he covered a 15km stretch on foot in the cotton-soyabean belt of Amravati district in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region to meet families of farmers who committed suicide over crop failure in the last 14 months.
The march was the first of Rahul’s padayatras against the Centre’s “anti-farmer” policies and came barely six months after Congress was voted out of the power in Maharashtra in an election in which farmers’ suicide was a key issue.
The Congress vice-president was warmly welcomed by the deceased farmers’ families. They answered his questions on the reasons behind the suicides and about their demands. Rahul, however, did not make any promises.
Rahul began his padayatra from Gunji village in Dhamangaon railway tehsil. On his 15km-long march from Gunji to Ramgaon via Shahapur in the sweltering heat, he was accompanied by state Congress chief Ashok Chavan, his predecessor Manikrao Thakare, local party MLAs Virendra Jagtap and Yashomati Thakur and former agriculture minister Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.
Amit Kamble, a resident of Shahapur village whose father committed suicide in January, told mediapersons: “At least he came and enquired about our problems. None from the present government did”.
Bharat Walke from Gunji, whose 23-year-old son committed suicide a few months ago, was happy that “a big man” visited his house. Asked if Rahul promised anything, he said, without hiding displeasure: “No, he didn’t say anything like that”.
However, not everyone was lucky enough to meet Rahul. Tears rolling down her cheek, Vandana Vanjari (42) said: “My husband died of heart attack and I spent over Rs 50,000 to treat him before his death. He was shocked by repeated crop failures. I am left with nothing to fall back on and no money to educate my two children. I explained my case to Virendra Jagtap but he ignored me.” She added: “Am I not eligible to get anything just because my husband did not commit suicide”.
Rahul had a detailed interaction with farmers at a temple along Shahapur-Ramgaon road and ended his tour at Tonglabad, a village in Chandur railway tehsil that has seen four suicides since January 2014. Speaking to mediapersons there, he said, “Farmers’ condition has deteriorated badly over the past few months. The Centre and state governments are ignoring them. During my interactions, I found their distress is due to debts, low MSP and lack of bonus they earlier got on cotton.”
Attacking the Narendra Modi government, he said: “The agriculture minister says only three suicides have happened in Maharashtra and a Haryana minister dubs farmers cowards. This government belongs to a select capitalists. It has no concern for poor, farmers, labourers and small traders.”
Asked why he did not promise anything to the farmers, Rahul said: “How can I give any assurance? I will do my best for them through my party.”