Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Monday hit the assembly poll hustings in Gujarat and accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of drawing up plans to displace adivasis who are the “first owners of the country” by handing over forests to industrialists.
He also said the government’s policies are creating “two Indias” of select billionaires and the poor.
Gandhi addressed two rallies, one at Mahuva in Surat district and another in Rajkot, his first after the Gujarat Assembly poll schedule was declared earlier this month.
Gandhi said he felt the pain of farmers, youth and tribals after meeting them during his Bharat Jodo Yatra.
He raked up the Morbi bridge collapse tragedy, in which 135 people were killed last month, and alleged no action was taken against the “real culprits” because they share a “good relationship” with the BJP in Gujarat.
Addressing an election rally in Rajkot, he said while watchmen (posted at the bridge collapse site) were arrested and jailed, no action was taken against the “real culprits” because they are linked to BJP.
Gandhi also spoke about joblessness, inflation, demonetisation impact, “faulty GST”, and the waiving of NPAs worth lakhs of crores of select billionaires while the Central government has not been extending the same benefit to poor farmers.
The Congress MP took a break from his Bharat Jodo Yatra, which on Sunday wound up its Maharashtra leg, and travelled to Gujarat to hit the campaign trail. The Congress, which had won 77 seats in the 2017 polls, is trying to pose a challenge to BJP, seeking a seventh straight term, in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Gandhi said his 3,570-km yatra, which started from Tamil Nadu on September 7, was for the unity of the country and during the cross-country foot march he felt the pain of farmers, youth and people from the tribal community after listening to their problems.
“They (BJP) call you ‘vanvasi’ (forest dwellers). They do not say you are the first owners of India, but that you live in the jungles. Do you see the difference? It means they do not want you to live in cities, see your children becoming engineers, doctors, learn to fly planes, speak English,” he said at the rally at tribal-dominated Mahuva.
Further attacking the ruling party, the Lok Sabha member from Kerala alleged BJP wants to keep tribals away from modern health and education facilities.
“They want you to live in the jungles, but do not stop there. After that, they start taking away the jungles from you. If it continues like this, then in another 5 to 10 years, all the jungles will be in the hands of 2 to 3 industrialists, and you will have no place to live, get no education, health and job,” Gandhi added.
In fact, they worked to weaken important legislations like the PESA Act (Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act, the Land Acquisition Act and Forest Rights Act, among others, he claimed.
Gandhi said the yatra was inspired by two sons of Gujarat — Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, but sadly it didn’t pass through the western state.
“Sadness is experienced while talking to farmers, youths, and tribals. Farmers do not get proper rates (for agri products), or insurance money,…their loan is not waived. Youths are unemployed, their dream is breaking. Someone wants to become an engineer, his parents spend money on his education, but he is working as a labourer (after getting a degree),” he said.
Speaking in Rajkot, Gandhi said the bridge tragedy is not a political issue but the question is why no action was taken against those who were behind this (tragedy), and why no FIR (has been filed against them). They arrested ‘chowkidars’ (watchmen) and put them behind bars, but no action has been taken against the real culprits.
The British-era suspension bridge on the Machchhu river collapsed on the evening of October 30, killing 135 people, including several women and children. Morbi was part of Rajkot district before its bifurcation.
Targeting the BJP government, Gandhi said its policies are creating “two Indias” — one of the billionaires who can do whatever they dream of, and the other of the poor who are struggling to live amid inflation and joblessness.
“Two Indias are being created — one of the billionaires who can do whatever they dream of and the other comprising the poor, farmers, labourers, and small businessmen. We do not need two Indias. We need one India of justice,” he said.
He said the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSME) sector was the real generator of jobs before it was forced to shut down due to demonetisation in 2016 and the poorly-executed Goods and Services Tax (GST) rollout.
Speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic, Gandhi said when workers walked several kilometres on road on empty stomachs, the government didn’t come to their aid.
“When workers were dying on roads the BJP government waived loans worth lakhs of crores of the richest Indians,” he said.
Gandhi said the note ban, GST, and the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic were not policies but the “weapons against farmers, SMEs, and poor workers, intended to finish them off and make way for 2-3 billionaires of the country.”
“They (billionaires) can do whatever business they want. Telecom, airports, ports, infrastructure, farming, and grocery stores; they can do whatever they want. They can dream of whatever they wish. But when the youth of the country dream of becoming engineers, they will first have to spend lakhs in private institutions, face inflation, and eventually end up becoming labourers,” he said.
He said the country is facing the “highest rate of unemployment in the last 45 years” and alleged PSUs are being privatised and lakhs of positions lying vacant in government not filled.