In an attempt to strike a chord with the distressed farmers of Vidarbha in Maharashtra, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi walked 15 kilometres under a scorching sun through five villages on Thursday, meeting farmers and urging the families and widows of those who have committed suicide not to lose heart.
The “Samvad Padayatra” left farmers overwhelmed, with many skipping work to catch a glimpse of Mr. Gandhi.
Undertaking the yatra in Amravati, which has recorded an appalling 295 farmer suicides already this year, Mr. Gandhi accused the Narendra Modi government of working for select capitalists at the cost of farmers.
He said the BJP government in Maharashtra had abandoned farmers. “Some people say that only three suicides have been reported from Maharashtra. Someone in Haryana said farmers forced to commit suicides were cowards, and the State government would not help cowards. I want to tell farmers in Maharashtra, don’t lose heart. We will stand with you. We will fight for you,” Mr. Gandhi told presspersons at Tonglabad.
Mr. Gandhi discussed the agrarian crisis with farmers individually in their homes.
Unseasonal rains have damaged Rabi crops on nearly 50,000 hectares of land, affecting one lakh farmers in Vidarbha, where a majority of Maharashtra’s 601 farm suicides took place this year.
He said he had never witnessed such an abysmal agrarian crisis in the past in the region.
Four farmers committed suicide since January in Tonglabad village, where he concluded his yatra. The family of Manikrao Thavkar was overwhelmed by Mr. Gandhi’s visit. “He heard us like he belonged to our family. We feel very privileged that Rahul Gandhi visited our humble dwelling. At least someone is listening to us,” said Sindhu, widow of Thavkar.
However, the family was left a bit disappointed as Mr. Gandhi did not make any concrete assurances to them or provide them any immediate monetary relief. “We were expecting that he would at least declare for us some compensation amount for immediate relief. Though he promised he would look into our grievances, we aren’t expecting much,” said Mangesh, Thavkar’s son.
Mr. Gandhi’s previous visits to villagers may not inspire much confidence. Be it him staying at the house of a Dalit woman, Sunita Kori, in Amethi or visiting Kalavati Bandurkar, the widow of a farmer in Amravati, Mr. Gandhi’s stopovers brought little change to their lives.
Reacting to Mr. Gandhi’s yatra in his home-turf, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said his government was ready to accept suggestions from him to improve the condition of farmers but suggested that he avoid politicising farm issues.
He said it was a Congress-led government which ruled the State till recently.