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Rediff.com  » News » Rahul's rally draws huge crowd, farmers come with hope

Rahul's rally draws huge crowd, farmers come with hope

Last updated on: July 9, 2011 20:22 IST

'Rain a good omen; don't leave your seats'

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Sahim Salim in Aligarh

The rains played spoilsport at Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's much hyped farmer's rally in Uttar Pradesh on Saturday. Volunteers seemed to be at their wits' end to directing the crowds at the Numaish Ground in Aligarh. 

Crowds started coming to the ground as early as 9 am on Saturday. When it started raining, the crowds tried to scamper for shelter after water leaked through the waterproof cover head tents. Within minutes, huge puddles were formed at the ground. Organisers tried to encourage the crowd not to leave their seats by telling them that it was a good omen that it was raining. 

"Rain is the best friend of a farmer. This is a good omen. Don't leave your seats. Let it rain, let it storm, we will hold our rally," organisers appealed to the masses. 

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Farmers constitute 30-40 per cent of the congregation

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The Kisan Mahapanchayat seemed to be more of a Congress mahapanchayat. Speaker after speaker from the Congress party took stage and talked of what an achievement Gandhi's four-day padyatra was. The common sentiment among the speakers, mostly local leaders, seemed to be that "such an attendance is only an indication that the people will vote the party to power in the elections next year". 

However, despite the rain, there was shortage of people in attendance. The sprawling ground was filled almost to capacity. Private buses and tractors hired by the Congress brought in farmers and Congress workers from across eastern Uttar Pradesh. 

The question to be asked, however, is how many farmers attended the rally organised for them. Most farmers that told rediff.com spoke to were from Aligarh itself. There was one big group from Bhatta Parsaul, but farmers from other districts like Agra, Mathura were few. All in all, farmers could not have constituted more than 30-40 per cent of the total attendance. 

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Image: File photo of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi gesturing to a villager during his visit to Parsaul village
Photographs: Parivartan Sharma/Reuters
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'Rahul Gandhi will have solutions for your problems'

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Some women from Bhaderi village in Aligarh told rediff.com that the only reason they came for the rally was because they were promised an audience with Gandhi. These women did not even have land issues with the Mayawati government. 

"Congress workers came to our village and told us that they would facilitate a meeting with Rahul Gandhi to discuss our pension problems. The Mayawati government had promised us women a pension of Rs. 1,800 of which we only get Rs. 1000. When Congress workers came to our village, they told us to get in the bus and come here as Rahul Gandhi would have a solution to our problems. On reaching here, the volunteers disappeared," Mala Devi, one of the women alleged. 

One of the things that the farmers at the venue were told was that they would be allowed to make speeches in Rahul Gandhi's presence. 

Gandhi himself arrived three hours after the rally started. By then most of the farmers invited to speak at the venue were done with their speeches. Gandhi himself did not seem to have anything new to speak and repeated what he had been saying at different villages in the past four days - praising Congress's achievement in acquiring land without a problem in Haryana; farmers were not against development, etc.

Even after the Gandhi scion arrived three hours after the rally began, local leaders were given the stage to speak. After a point, the crowd began to get restless and started shouting that Gandhi be allowed to speak. 

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Image: Women from Bhaderi village who were promised an audience with Rahul by Congress workers
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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Many farmers believe Rahul was the answer to their problems

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"We are here for relief. Mayawati governmment has been robbing us blind. This, after so many promises of introducing better policies. Gandhi is a politician too, but he has undertaken a padyatra and spent days walking in our villages. He did not have special fans or anything. So he must have felt the heat like we do and hopefully has learnt something from it," a farmer from Chuharpur Village in Alipur, Ram Chadda said. 

Chadda said that he hoped that if Congress came to power, Gandhi would give them back their land. 

"He has been saying that the land acquisition done by the Mayawati government is against the law. So it is obvious that he will either give us back our lands or give us better compensation," Chadda said. 

Another farmer Dhirender Pal Singh lost almost half of his land to Mayawati's land acquisition. Singh invested his meagre savings from his job as a Hindi professor in a local college in buying a piece of land in his village.

"I lost half of my land, which used to give me three varieties of crops every year. I am still to accept the meagre compensation the Mayawati government has promised to offer. I don't want to accept it, as that land is all I have from the money I saved from my job. If I lose that land, I will lose everything. I hope the Congress comes into power so that we can reclaim our land or be better compensated for it," Singh said. 

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Image: Ram Chadda, a farmer, believes that if Congress came to power, Gandhi would give them back their land.
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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'I am supporting Rahulji hoping that he can give us some relief'

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Rama Sahay is farmer from Tappal in Aligarh district, which had started the whole agitation. Villagers of Tappal had last year protested after their land was acquired cheap for a proposed township in the area. In the agitation that followed, four farmers were killed after they clashed with the police. 

"We have been constantly threatened by UP government officials to give up our lands after we refused to accept their compensation. We had begun our protest initially because we had been given peanuts in compensation. Our demand of being paid at least what the farmers in Noida were being paid was shot down. It was after that we started our agitation the government announced higher rates. But even the terms of this new deal are very confusing and some of us have not taken the deal," Sahay said.

"Rahulji has shown promise in his padyatra. I am supporting him so that he can give us some relief. We are farmers and our only possession is our land. If that is taken away from us, we become penniless. Where will our children go? What will they do?" Sahay added.

 


Image: Rama Sahay believes that Rahul has shown promise in his padyatra
Photographs: Sahim Salim
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