Updated: April 29, 2015 3:17:29 am
With the Congress seeking to use the Narendra Modi government’s farm policies to arrest its own sliding fortunes, the party has picked Maharashtra’s Amravati district, the epicenter of a spate of farmer suicides, to kickstart party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s major public outreach plan.
Rahul will start his countrywide ‘Kisan Padyatra’ on April 30 with a 15-kilometre march across villages in Amravati, where a staggering 295 farmers have committed suicide since January this year.
Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan Tuesday said Rahul would tour five distressed villages — Gunji, Shahapur, Ramgaon, Rajana and Tongalabad — interacting with farmers and meeting grief-stricken families. “The Congress vice-president will cover a total distance of 175 km during his daylong trip. This would include the 15-km long padyatra,” Chavan said.
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Replicating the strategy adopted by former prime ministers Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi after the party’s poll debacles in 1977 and 1989, respectively, Congress sources said, Rahul’s countrywide padyatra aimed to renew the party’s ties with the masses and galvanise local workers feeling alienated since the defeats in 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly polls. With the party having made a comeback on both the previous occasions, the party is hoping Rahul will be able to emulate his grandmother and father.
Kickstarting the padyatra from the country’s ‘suicide capital’ in the backdrop of agrarian crisis, Rahul is expected to take the campaign to other distressed rural belts, including Telangana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Ironically, Amravati is among the six Vidarbha districts, where the Congress once held a considerable clout. But, party sources admitted, the Lok Sabha election in which the party failed to win even a single seat in Vidarbha and the subsequent assembly polls when it again fared miserably signalled that it had failed to consolidate itself in the region despite being in power for three consecutive terms since 1999. Interestingly, Rahul’s padyatra will start from a village in Dhamangaon Railway assembly constituency represented by party legislator Virendra Jagtap. Congress sources said they were hoping Rahul’s visit would enthused the party’s rank and file.
Meanwhile, a day before Rahul arrives in Maharashtra — he is scheduled to reach Nagpur Wednesday evening — the Congress set the stage with Chavan hitting out at the BJP-led state government’s ‘anti-farmer’ policies.
The state Congress chief alleged that the state government had recently lifted curbs on the stocking limit on essential food grains to “artificially raise prices” encouraging hoarding.
Further claiming that the Union and the state governments had not taken concrete steps to arrest distress among farmers, Chavan alleged that the “government’s insensitivity was deliberate”.
Ahead of Rahul’s visit, the Congress has demanded that the state write off farm loans. When asked if his party was indulging in politics over farmer suicides, Chavan said, “This is not politics. The farmers are in distress, and we must stand up for them.”
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