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Confidence overdrive: Congress set to replicate Rahul's Kisan Yatra in Punjab

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

Having carried out successful campaigns in the urban milieu, the Congress party in Punjab is set to launch a farmers' outreach programme demanding debt waiver. The programme will be a replica of the recent Kisan Yatra undertaken by the party in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh. A four-day visit by the party vice president Rahul Gandhi will reportedly be altered a bit to lead to this initiative around Diwali.

The Congress will also be trying to make inroads into the voter base of its rivals the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

While Akalis traditionally have had a strong base among the agrarian classes, AAP has also managed to develop a strong base among the farmers after carrying out campaigns on farmer suicides, rising farm distress and supply of spurious pesticides and seeds.

The Congress is calling its new initiative a flagship door-to-door exercise that will start from 12 October with an aim to reach out to every household in the state.

Punjab Congress president Captain Amarinder Singh disclosed that in the first phase from 12 October to 25 October, party workers will engage with more than 25 lakh households and the party will establish direct contact with 75 lakh voters while reaching out to more than two crore people.

Amarinder has rolled out the programme blueprint and assigned targets for party workers to take the campaign forward effectively.

What's on the cards

An extension of the Congress campaign led by Rahul in Uttar Pradesh, the Punjab farm debt waiver campaign will also be centred around the message 'Karza-Kurki Khatam; Fassal Di Poori Rakam' (An end to debt and auctioning of farm land; A demand for full price for farm produce).

Just on the lines of the Uttar Pradesh Kisan Yatra, the Punjab campaign will see Congress workers approaching targeted households with a simple proforma that will capture the details of the household and the quantum of their outstanding debt.

A receipt will be issued to serve as an agreement guaranteeing debt waiver for the farmers on a priority basis once the Congress forms the government.

Amarinder has been reiterating that the Congress is committed to waive off all farm debts and also ban farm land auctioning and subsequent dispossession once it comes to power.

The party will also ensure that procurement is carried out promptly, with higher Minimum Support price (MSP) paid to farmers within 24 hours of lifting the grain. The Congress is also promising implementation of the majority of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission report.

Debt dues

The Congress leadership is pointing out that Amarinder, during his previous tenure, had instituted a Rs. 211 crore one-time debt settlement scheme that had benefited about four lakh farmers in Punjab.

The UPA government at the Centre had waived off farm debt worth Rs 73,000 crore and this had played a major role in its return to power in 2009.

According to the Congress leadership, "In Punjab, the average amount of agricultural loans stands at about Rs 1.2 lakh per household. Last year, 505 farmers and agricultural labourers committed suicide under their debt burden. As in the previous year, the Akali government is unlikely once again this year to meet the procurement target or make prompt payments, which is expected to exacerbate the debt burden of on the farmers."

On the day Rahul returned to Delhi after completing his Uttar Pradesh Yatra, Amarinder had said that it had paved the way for similar state-level programmes in the run-up to the polls and their impact would be felt even beyond the elections since Rahul had succeeded in feeling the pulse of the farmers.

During his Punjab visit, Rahul will reportedly be carrying out a bus yatra concentrating mainly on the Malwa region of the state that has a maximum number of assembly constituencies.

Incidentally, Malwa happens to be the core base of the Badal family. The Congress has a strong presence in several pockets and AAP too has made considerable inroads into this area. Amarinder also said that he wants Sonia and Priyanka Gandhi to visit Punjab ahead of the polls.

Poll aspirants

The Congress has shortlisted 600 of the 1,600 applications received from ticket aspirants. The remaining 1,000 applications have been rejected on technical grounds, related to failure to meet the eligibility conditions laid down by the party.

According to party leaders, in most of these cases, the applications were found to be incomplete, while in some the applicants failed to provide contact details, as required, of two persons from the booths in their respective constituencies. The latter was aimed at gauging the strength and reach of the prospective candidates at the grassroot levels.

The shortlisted 600 will be at the forefront of the farmer outreach initiative and their success in carrying out the programme will finally decide their candidature.

"We are taking all steps to ensure that no candidate is selected without a detailed background check. Corruption and dishonesty have no place in the Congress culture and we will not allow anyone to mar the party's image," said Amarinder.

Bolstered confidence

The party is buoyed by its campaigns in the urban areas like 'Cofee with Captain' and 'Halke vich Captain'. Ever since the trouble started in the AAP ranks following the departure of its state convener Succha Singh Chhotepur, the Congress has been able to gain considerable electoral ground.

It is the fresh lease of confidence in it ranks that has now led it to rule out an alliance with Awaz-e-Punjab forum floated by cricketer turned politician Navjot Singh Sidhu along with Olympian Pargat Singh and others. Amarinder now wants a merger of the front with the Congress.

Denying that there are any talks between any Congress leader and Sidhu, he said that anybody is welcome to join the party but there will be no conditions and no seat adjustments.

He pointed out that earlier as well the People's Party of Punjab and the Shiromani Akali Dal (Longowal) had merged into the Congress without any conditions.

While SAD is relying heavily on the sops it has been doling out to the farmers recently and raking up water sharing issue of the state, AAP is heavily dependent on its grass root-level drives that it has carried out in rural Punjab over the last one and a half years. These two parties will also be further intensifying their campaigns in rural Punjab soon.

Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has been telling the farmers that has a proven anti-farmer and anti-poor track record. Citing examples, he has been saying that while the SAD-BJP alliance has been providing free power to farmers but during his regime, Amarinder had discontinued this thereby putting an enormous burden on farmers.

Likewise, Badal has been accusing Amarinder of being a part and parcel of the conspiracy to rob waters of the state by constructing the Satluj Yamuna Link (SYL) canal. Badal has been claiming that during his tenure as chief minister Amarinder never initiated any scheme for the welfare of poor strata of society.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

Also read: Ensuring Congress' win in Punjab will be Prashant Kishor's toughest assignment

Also read: AAP on a roll in Punjab but don't write off Congress and Akalis

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First published: 11 October 2016, 3:17 IST