Congress general secretaries Rahul Gandhi and Digvijay Singh carried their party's battle against the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) by sneaking into the tension-filled village of Bhatta in Greater Noida in the early hours of Wednesday to express their solidarity with farmers agitating against the attempt to acquire their land.
The Congress leaders have said that till the Uttar Pradesh government sets up a judicial enquiry into the firing in which four persons were killed last Saturday, they are not going to leave the village. “I feel ashamed to call myself an Indian after seeing what has happened here. The [State] government here has unleashed atrocities on its own people,” Mr. Gandhi told the farmers.
The BSP government faces a major embarrassment as the incident comes just two days ahead of the government's celebrations to mark the end of its fourth year in power. The presence of the Special Protection Group that provided security to Mr. Gandhi in the village is a security nightmare for the authorities. But when Congress spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan was asked whether Mr Gandhi's presence in the village was not going to add to the tension, she said, “Rahulji has gone there to understand first-hand the farmers' issues. He does not expect either endorsement or admiration.”
Referring to the fact that Mr. Gandhi has stolen a march on other Opposition leaders, whose entry has been blocked by the State administration, by going to the village before dawn on a motorcycle, Ms. Natarajan said, “There is no Constitutional ban on going on a motorcycle. I don't think any other leader would have taken so much trouble to get there.”
But even as the Congress is trying to seize the political initiative on the land acquisition issue, questions are being asked on the lack of progress made by the United Progressive Alliance government on amending the outdated Land Acquisition Act, something that Mr. Gandhi had himself made a commitment to push not so long ago. On Wednesday, Ms. Natarajan, in answer to a question, said the government was still keen to amend the law at the earliest.
We are not, says BJP
The BJP joined issue with Mr. Rahul Gandhi on his comments that he was “ashamed” to be an Indian after seeing the plight of farmers in Greater Noida, saying it was disappointed with his views and insisted the BJP was proud to be Indian.
“We are disappointed with the statement of Rahul Gandhi that he is ashamed to be an Indian. We are not. We are proud to be Indians. We are ashamed of Congress rule of half a century which has denied the rights of farmers, be it remunerative prices or amendment to the Land Acquisition Act,” BJP spokesperson Prakash Javadekar said.
“Gandhi's dharna is a farce. What is his view on the Jaitapur compensation issue? He also made promises in Tappal (Meerut) where farmers were agitating but failed to keep them.”
He opposed the Posco project but now government had approved it, Mr. Javadekar said. He maintained that the Congress cannot “have the cake and eat it too.”
“You cannot fool the people all the time,” Mr. Javadekar said.