Exclusive: Rahul Gandhi to Woo UP Farmers With Huge Debt Waiver
In an altogether different mode, Rahul Gandhi seeks to attract UP farmers ahead of polls, reports Mayank Mishra.
Bereft of a solid electoral base in politically crucial Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is attempting to build one by targeting a secular constituency of farmers. Party Vice President Rahul Gandhi is set to embark on an arduous 2,500-km-long door-to-door padyatra beginning 6 September from Deoria in eastern UP. Called the Deoria-Delhi Kisan Padyatra, the long march will culminate with a farmers’ rally in Delhi on 2 October.
This is perhaps the first serious attempt by a seemingly laggard party to launch an outreach programme on such a massive scale to breathe new life into it with elections scheduled for next summer. In recent elections, the Congress was seen lagging in launching election campaigns using new technological tools.
The padyatra will involve Rahul visiting farm households in person in as many as 225 assembly constituencies. The idea is to assure some sort of debt waiver scheme to farmers. Congress sources say that the party will launch an agitation to press for a debt waiver scheme. If this does not happen now, the Congress will launch a similar scheme if it comes to power, according to details of the plan exclusively accessed by The Quint.
Prashant Kishor’s Plan
The plan has all the imprint of political strategist Prashant Kishor who earned himself the reputation for guiding Narendra Modi’s mega election campaign in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Nitish Kumar’s tough electoral battle in the 2015 Bihar assembly polls. Kishor is now advising the Congress in Punjab and UP.
The Numbers Game
- 2,500 kilometres to be covered by the padyatra without a break
- Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders to cover 225 assembly and 55 Lok Sabha constituencies spread over 42 districts
- Rahul and fellow Congress leaders to directly reach out to 25,000 farmers in every block
- The outreach programme to cover more than 2 crore farmers
- Each of the farmers to be given two stickers
- Congress vice president to send recorded voice message to all of them promising debt waiver
According to the Congress’ estimate, an average farmer in UP is burdened with a debt of Rs 27,300. This means that the total cost of the promised debt waiver will be close to Rs 50,000 crore. Each of the Congress leaders will carry a kit to be given to the farmers.
Previous Debt Waiver Schemes
Incidentally, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government launched a farm loan debt waiver scheme ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. The Rs 52,300 crore scheme is estimated to have benefited nearly 3.7 crore farmers across the country. This was one of the schemes that is credited to have helped the UPA return to power in 2009.
Sensing an opportunity at a time of rising rural distress, the Congress plans to do an encore. The promise is likely to give the grand old party an opening among social categories which have been out of its catchment areas in recent years. Experts say that a bulk of the indebted farmers belong to lower other backward classes (OBCs) and Dalits. These two social groups alone account for more than half of UP’s population.
Wooing Small, Marginal Farmers
If the Congress manages to attract even a section of this social categories it may prove to be a game changer, say political commentators. Additionally, the Congress has been on a campaign to woo Brahmins across the state.
As per the plan conceived by Prashant Kishor, Congress workers touring the state will distribute two stickers to the farmers – one for the mobile handset and the other for the dwelling unit. Farmers will be told to give a missed call to a number given to them. A recorded voice message of Rahul Gandhi will be sent to each of the numbers promising concrete action on the proposed debt waiver scheme.
For a party not known for a functional organisation on the ground, executing such a plan is going to be a big challenge. Congress sources, however, are hopeful that with Rahul keen to make a difference in the party’s fortunes in UP, the party machinery will leave no stone unturned to make it a success. It will perhaps help the Congress test its organisational structure as well.
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