Rahul meets farmers
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi meets farmers at his residence in New Delhi on 18 April 2015.IANS

In his first public appearance after a 56-day break from active politics, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday met farmers and landless labourers who wanted abrogation of the land acquisition bill.

The meetings were held a day ahead of Kisan-Khet-Mazdoor rally, to be addressed by Rahul Gandhi and party president Sonia Gandhi, to mount pressure on the government over the controversial land bill, and against Narendra Modi government's policies described by many parties as "anti-farmer".

The 44-year-old Gandhi scion met about half-a-dozen groups of farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh as well as Pradesh Congress Committee presidents at his 12, Tughlak Lane residence here.

Party spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said: "Rahul Gandhi assured them (the farmers) that Congress party will take this fight (against the land acquisition bill) to finish... will fight for the cause of farmers not only inside the parliament but on the streets and villages."

The BJP, however, deemed it fit to focus on the "leadership issue" in the Congress.

"Congratulations from the Congress party's perspective. They must be celebrating after all their leader is back. With regard to where he was and what he went for, that remains a secret," party spokesperson Nalin Kohli said.

"And it's for the Congress party to solve its leadership issues. Whether he needs to be anointed or not, as the war within the Congress party seems to indicate. There is a debate ongoing," he added.

The farmers, after meeting Rahul Gandhi, said they discussed the land acquisition bill as well as the issue of the "mammoth" crop damage caused by unseasonal rain and hailstorms.

Roop Singh, a farmer from Haryana, told IANS that Gandhi assured him of raising the land bill issue in the parliament.

"The act brought by Congress should be retained... The current bill is anti-farmer and is a Modi bill," he added.

A Congress party release said the farmers noted that "wheat and other rabi crops are lying in the grain markets but the government is not procuring the same at the minimum support price of Rs.1,450 per quintal on the plea that crop had moisture content over 14 percent as also that farmers' crop had either shriveled or shrunk or got blackened on account of incessant rains and hailstorms".

Pointing out the details of the meetings, former Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the farmers noted that they were "on teetering on the brink of total loss" after Modi government assumed the stewardship at the centre.

Blaming Modi for "working against the interest of the farmers", a land owner Yashpal Solanki urged the government for retaining the the Land Acquisition 2013 Act.

"The first act should be retained and not changed," he said, adding that Rahul Gandhi gave him assurance for raising the issue in the parliament.

On the eve of the budget session set to reconvene on April 20, a bevy of farmers are expected to converge in the national capital from far and wide to attend the Sunday's rally at Ramilila Maidan to stir up momentum ahead of the second phase of the budget session.

Congress, which has been strongly opposing changes in the original Act brought by its government in 2013, is pulling out all the stops to protest against the dilution of the original consent clause. The clause makes it mandatory to secure 80 percent approval of all those dependent on the land being procure.

Rahul Gandhi, who led a protest march in Bhatta Parsaul, in 2011 against the then Mayawati government's land acquisition in Uttar Pradesh, will be seen in the forefront once again at the farmers' rally here on Sunday morning.