PM, Sonia sound election bugle at farmers’ rally

March 9th, 2008 - 7:45 pm ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Manmohan Singh

New Delhi, March 9 (IANS) Riding high on a populist budget, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress president Sonia Gandhi sounded the poll bugle at a massive farmers’ rally here Sunday, highlighting the government’s achievements and blaming all problems - from price rise to farmer debts - on the predecessor NDA government. In the first public rally after the huge farm loan waiver of Rs.600 billion announced in the national budget, Prime Minister Singh said it would benefit “around four crore (40 million) farmers”.

Taking a dig at the opposition, Singh said, “The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government treated increasing agricultural production as a burden and argued that there was no space in the godowns to keep the produce. They sold food grain at throwaway prices to foreign countries. And then called this ‘India Shining’.”

Addressing the mammoth gathering of around 150,000 at the Ramlila Ground, Gandhi touched upon the concerns of the common man, especially the farmers.

“As the party in power, our first responsibility is to bring benefits to all sections of society, especially the poor, the unorganised labourers, the farmers and the weaker sections,” she announced amidst thunderous applause.

“Keeping this in mind, this budget is for the poor, for the weak, for the down-trodden, for the women, for the young,” Gandhi proclaimed at the rally, aptly named ‘Dhanyawad Abhinandan’ (thanksgiving felicitation) rally to capitalise on the waiver.

“The farmer is our food-provider. If his back is broken with huge debts, it is our duty to take care of his needs. The loan waiver announced by the government is a historic step and will change the standard of living of the farmers and increase their self-confidence,” Gandhi said.

The Congress president left nobody in doubt that the farm loan waiver was the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s trump card and the party was certain to use it in crucial state elections and the Lok Sabha polls.Nearly two-thirds of India’s population is involved in agriculture.

Barely a fortnight back the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) held a similar rally but that paled in comparison to the mighty show of strength the Congress put up Sunday at the same venue - the Ramlila Ground. The Congress has been worried about the rising popularity of BSP leader and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, who has been holding one rally after the other.

Carrying on the rhetoric, Gandhi blamed the erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government for all the problems troubling the common man today.

“Though there has been an unprecedented increase in the production of rice and wheat, the opposition parties are criticising us. These problems are because of the policies of the NDA government,” she said.

“Yeh to wohi baat hui ki ulta chor kotwal ko daante (This is like the culprit shouting at the police). Now there is no point in shedding crocodile tears,” she said, inviting cheers from the crowd, which had a fair sprinkling of women.

Detailing the various social sector schemes launched for the common people like National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA), the mid-day meal scheme and scholarships for poor students, Gandhi said these programmes would go a long way towards inclusive growth.

Gandhi also reserved a part of her speech on steps taken for women and children.

“Women are the real strength of society, they are the core of a family, and create the future. We have given lots of benefits to women in the budget, including tax benefits.”

The BJP attempt to corner the Congress on the Women’s Reservation Bill and blaming it for not being sensitive to the cause of women has made the party look afresh at women voters.

On rising prices, Gandhi conceded, “Inflation is a worrying problem. But there are many international reasons for this, including rise in petrol and diesel prices. We have tried not to increase prices by as much as the increase in the international prices.”

Countering the opposition blame that Congress is soft on terrorism, Gandhi blasted the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani (without naming him) for his recent speech in parliament on the issue.

She said there would be no softness towards those indulging in communal politics. “Social and national unity is a must for the integrity of the country,” she said.

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