Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of seeking to return "debt of industrialists" and vowed to fight for farmers' interests and against the "weakened" land bill in his first public rally after returning from a 56-day leave of absence. The BJP hit back, wondering how many times the Congress will launch him.
The Congress sought to put the Narendra Modi government on notice over its land bill with all its top leaders - Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi and Manmohan Singh - signalling the party's intention to make it a rallying point in the party's efforts to revive itself electorally after the debacle in the last Lok Sabha election.
"How Modi won the election? He took loans of thousands of crores from big industrialists from which his campaigning was done. How will he meet the obligation? He will do it by giving (them) your land. He wants to weaken the land bill," Rahul Gandhi said at a well attended Kisan-Khet Mazdooor rally at the Ramlila Maidan here.
The rally was also seen as an occasion to highlight Rahul Gandhi's role in taking up causes of farmers and in getting the land bill passed in 2013 during the rule of United Progressive Alliance.
He alleged in his 25-minute speech that the government wants that farmers do not get adequate price for their crops, do not get fertiliser and are not able to stand on their feet.
"Then, they will purchase your land and give it to industrialists... He (Modi) showed that in Gujarat model land can be taken. What he (Modi) did in Gujarat, he wants to do it in India... Modi wants to weaken the foundation. This is Modi's model -- weaken the foundation, then attach a ladder to the building, paint it and show to the world though the building is weak from inside."
Speaking extempore, Rahul Gandhi said the Congress was firmly with the farmers and the poor. "Wherever there is attempt to snatch their land, Congress leaders will be there. I will be there."
Rahul Gandhi took exception to the reported remarks of Modi that he wants to remove "kachra" (dirt) of the past 50 years and said such words do not behove the post of prime minister.
The Bharatiya Janata Party reacted strongly to Rahul Gandhi's jibes at Modi.
"How many times will the Congress launch Rahul Gandhi," BJP leader and union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asked. He accused Rahul Gandhi of insulting the popular mandate of the last Lok Sabha election and sought an apology from him.
Prasad also hit back at Rahul Gandhi for his references to the Gujarat model.
"We want to ask Sonia and Rahul as to what is the Vadra model of development and land acquisition?" Prasad asked, referring to the controversy over the land deals involving Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra.
In her speech, Congress president Sonia Gandhi accused the Modi government of adding to the problems of farmers.
"Enough is enough. We will not allow interests of farmers, the poor and labourers to be marginalised with such ruthlessness," she said and enumerated steps taken by the erstwhile UPA government for benefit of farmers.
She said farmers were facing problems due to unseasonal rains and the central government had changed the land law through an ordinance to "benefit private companies".
"It is like adding insult to the injury of farmers," she said, adding that the the 2013 Act had provisions for creation of infrastructure, employment and irrigation but the Modi government was misleading farmers.
The new land bill will also adversely affect lives of tribals, she added.
"We have got new energy. We will fight with more force," she said.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said the new land bill will hurt the interests of farmers.
There was some odd moments for the party as a group of farmers wearing pink turbans, believed to be supporters of former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda, left soon after Rahul Gandhi finished his speech and before Sonia Gandhi took over the microphone.
The Congress downplayed it saying that they left due to hard weather.