The Bharatiya Janata Party on Thursday challenged Rahul Gandhi for an open debate on what the Congress did for farmers' welfare when in power and what the Modi government has done for them, as it rejected his allegations against the Centre as 'baseless and illogical'.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar accused the Congress of ignoring farmers' interests and keeping them poor to ensure cheap grain prices, and asserted that the Modi government empowered them by implementing the Swaminathan commission report to give them remunerative price through MSP.
The BJP leader noted that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will transfer Rs 18,000 crore to nine crore farmers on Friday, taking to a total of Rs 1.20 lakh crore the amount of money it has directly credited to their bank accounts so far.
"This is merely the beginning. It will continue for 10 years and the total scheme is of Rs seven lakh crore," he said, noting that the all the Congress did when it was in power was to waive their loans amounting to Rs 53,000 crore.
This money was not given to farmers but to banks against their loans, he noted.
Official sources also circulated a video of an old speech of Congress president Sonia Gandhi in which she is heard saying that farmers can get right price only when they can sell their produce directly to urban centres without middlemen.
They also shared old speeches of former prime minister Manmohan Singh and Rahul Gandhi in which both are heard advocating foreign direct investment (FDI) in the farm sector, saying it will not only fetch better prices for farmers but will also save produces from damage.
"Our government wanted the FDI in retail sector but it was opposed by parties in Parliament who are anti-farmers," Rahul Gandhi is heard saying.
A source said, "Now when the NDA government achieves these very objectives without FDI, the Congress opposes it."
Javadekar said, "I challenge the Congress and Rahul Gandhi for an open debate. I will prove how the Congress always ignored farmers' interests and how Modi empowered them. Farmers always demanded remunerative price for their produce but the Congress never did so."
The opposition party has been 'unmasked' as it has become clear and it and its allies have been using farmers' shoulders to fire at the government and have been 'instigating' them, he alleged.
Gandhi had alleged earlier in the day that there is 'no democracy in India' and it exists 'only in imagination'.
A Congress delegation met President Ram Nath Kovind and demanded a joint session of Parliament to repeal the Centre's three agri laws.
"The farmers (camping at Delhi borders) would not return till these laws are repealed. The government should convene a joint session of Parliament and repeal these laws," he told reporters after meeting the President.
Javadekar made light of Gandhi's demand for a session, saying when Parliament is in session, Congress members obstruct and do not take part in a debate.
He said the government's doors are always open for dialogue with agitating farmers, and it is confident that a solution will emerge.
Taking a swipe at the Congress leader, Union Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that leave aside the entire country, even the Congress does not take seriously whatever Gandhi says.
If Gandhi was so concerned about farmers, his party when in power could have done something for them, Tomar said.
The Congress has always been against farmers, he alleged.
In its 2019 election manifesto, Gandhi had said if the Congress came to power, the government would end agricultural produce market committee (APMC), ensure trade without mandi tax, and promote contract farming, he said.
"Now I want to ask Rahul Gandhi, if he lied in 2019 or is lying now. On this, the Congress has to come clear," Tomar said.
At a briefing at the BJP headquarters, party spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi took a swipe at Gandhi by calling him 'perpetually young, disenchanted, frustrated and agitated' and said his 'baseless and illogical' broadside against the government was in line with his nature.
In a counterattack on the Congress leader over his charge that the government invariably dubs its critics as 'anti-national', Trivedi said the opposition party had levelled a case of 'treason' against former prime minister Charan Singh, a noted leader of farmers, and jailed him as well.
BJP stalwart and former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had also been levelled with a similar charge by the party, he said.
He asked why Gandhi is not agitating for farmers in Kerala as the state from where he is an MP does not have the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act.
"This cannot be accepted what is good in Kerala is bad in Delhi," he said, noting that food processing giants such as Nestle and Pepsico have been present in Punjab for many years.
Farmers in other states should also benefit from similar private interventions in the farm market, he said.
Union Minister of State Rattan Lal Kataria said the farm laws are aimed at improving the overall economic condition of farmers.
'The government has been and shall always be concerned about the farmers' welfare and the three Acts are also aimed at the same.
'These laws will provide new rights and opportunities to farmers and further empower them in the long run,' he said in a statement.
Kataria criticised the opposition parties whom he accused of 'trying to play politics over this matter' and called them 'opportunists'.