In a heated discussion in Parliament — which reconvened on Monday for the Budget session — Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the farmer question. The Modi government tabled the controversial land ordinance it promulgated for passage in the Lok Sabha sparking off an intense debate on the impact of the proposed law on the farming community.
Launching a direct attack on Mr. Modi, the Nehru-Gandhi scion accused him of siding with industrialists and giving the farmers a short shrift. “The farmer is neglected by the BJP government,” Mr. Gandhi said. “The Prime Minister of this country must acknowledge that 60 per cent of the people in India are dependent on agriculture. Since the PM knows his political calculation, why is he upsetting 60 per cent of the country’s population and alienating the majority?” he asked, speaking in chaste Hindi. As he spoke in a defiant tone, his Congress colleagues cheered him along.
Quoting agriculture expert M.S. Swaminathan, Mr. Gandhi said that the future will belong to nations with grains not guns. He accused the BJP government of failing to provide farmers the required minimum support price and addressing credit issues. Addressing the earlier question he had raised of the reason for Mr. Modi’s “anti-farmer” move, he said the cost of land of farmers has going up and the government’s corporate friends want land. That is why efforts were on to weaken them and then hit them with the axe (metaphorically),” he said.
“You will earn political profit if you side with the farmers. You are making a huge mistake (by passing the land ordinance). In the future, the farmers will hurt you back when elections come,” he warned. Mr. Gandhi also drew attention to the heavy losses incurred by farmers due to the untimely rains recently. “Nearly 1,80,000 hectares of land has been damaged of farmers, but our PM is only happy to greet foreign leaders in his expensive pinstripe suit,” he said, taking jibes at Mr. Modi.
Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu rose to defend the PM, and pleaded the vociferous members of the Congress to maintain silence and allow Parliament to function smoothly. Pointing out that the PM had increased the support available for farmers who had suffered crop damage, he said that despite all the government support offered to the community, the truth is that no farmer wants his progeny to continue in agriculture. “Because farming is unremunerative, large-scale migration is happening across the country,” Mr. Naidu said. “We need to spend more on increasing agricultural output, and invest in research and development.”
He said that farmers in the country as a whole have suffered due to untimely rain leading to losses. That is why the PM, who is sensitive to farmer’s sufferings, asked his ministers and officers to go around the country and meet farmers. “We have not seen this kind of responsiveness in the over 40 years when Congress was in power,” he said, hitting back at Mr. Gandhi.
He ridiculed the Congress members by pointing out that they could not see beyond one person and one family in their party, but the BJP wasn’t like that.
In further defence of the PM, Mr. Naidu said that unlike in the previous regime when compensation was given to farmers when they had 50 per cent crop damage, BJP had ensured that farmers with only 33 per cent damage of crops were given compensation. He also admitted that the recommendations of the M.S. Swaminathan Commission report on agriculture is yet to be implemented and welcomed all members of the Parliament to reflect deeply on the recommendations, made by the agriculture expert. “We have to put our heads together. Parliament will have to find out an everlasting, long-term solution o the farm crisis,” he said. He also elaborated the pro-farmer steps on rural credit taken by the BJP government. He also recalled the measures taken under the previous BJP government under Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the areas of rural connectivity to drive home the point that it wasn’t the Congress alone which had benefitted the rural masses as they always claim.
“You have words for the poor but deeds for the rich, which is why the people have brought you to the Opposition and us to power,” he said, hitting back at the Congress.
Further responding to the Congress’s criticism of BJP promulgating an ordinance to pass the land law, he gently reminded his Congress colleagues that when the government led by their party was in power, they had passed 462 ordinances. “After what you have done, now you are advising us,” he returned.