The blinding neon flashes followed by deafening thunder cracking across the night sky and the subsequent torrent on Monday brought smiles to the faces of 73-year-old Raman Yadav and 21-year-old Pawan Sharma in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s floundering ‘sugar bowl’ Kushinagar.
The morning after farmers of Kushinagar and its adjoining Deoria districts, reeling under scanty rains for “three consecutive years”, have warmed up, albeit with a healthy dose of scepticism, to Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi’s promise on the first day of his 2,500-long kisan padyatra that farm loans will be waived off.
On a leisurely stroll near Rahul’s second ‘khaat sabha’ on Monday, Yadav, who is mulling to give Congress a shot in the next polls, speaks on politics with a careless abandon, providing pithy insights. His family owns 3 bigha land, which he says provide just about sustenance.
“Munde munde matir bhinna (perspectives differ from one person to another),” he says, when asked why a group of youth, huddled across the road, are rather willing to give “Modiji and Yogi Adityanath” a chance, “mainly” to bring down crime in the region.
But despite his personal liking for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sharma, who is in BSc third year, is somewhat receptive to Rahul’s repeated assertions, in meeting after meeting, that Congress will ensure that farm loans are waived off like the UPA government had done in the fag-end of its first term.
“My father is a sugarcane farmer so I know the plight of their lot. But such promises (Rahul’s) more often than not ring hollow. Modiji’s promise on black money has also come out a cropper till now but at least we can see attempts being made,” Pawan says.
But the concern over “rising cases of crime” cuts across age groups as Ambika Chaudhary, in his early sixties, echoes Pawan’s view that there indeed has been an “alarming spurt”, especially of lootings and snatchings.
Rahul’s ‘kisan padyatra’ outreach, which will meander across the eastern UP districts in its first leg, is aimed at gaining the support of these distressed farmers, which Congress believes will boost the party’s prospects in the 2017 assembly election in the state.
No wonder, the Congress scion’s chopper landed on a makeshift helipad at Pachladi Kritpura village, that houses a large number of sainthwar community people (OBC) battling bad crop fallout, of Deoria’s Rudrapur constituency.
Rahul visited five houses in the village that lacks a pucca road and power supply is as elusive as the rains. He interacted with the familes of Hanskumar Singh, Pradyuman Singh, Sadasya Singh (brothers) and Om Prakash Singh, who in turn apprised him of the amount they owe in form of outstanding loan dues.
Kushinagar and Deoria were among the 50 districts that were declared as drought-hit by the Uttar Pradesh government last year.
One senior Congress leader, accompanying Rahul, explained the party’s attempt to reach out to the farming community was crucial for it to even make a splash in the 403-member UP Assembly where it currently has a paltry 29 MLAs.
“The 2008 farm loan waiver had reaped the maximum dividends for Congress in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh. In the same way, this could very well be our trump card. What cannot be overlooked is that the crisis of sugarcane farmers is real and the mills owe them thousands of crores,” the leader says.
State Advisory Price (SAP) of cane has remained unchanged at Rs 280 per quintal in Uttar Pradesh, the country’s second-largest sugar producer, for the last four years.
“I had to take a loan of Rs 25,000 this June due to successive years of scanty rainfall. Rahulji met me and assured me that he will ensure that this amount is waived off. I signed the mangpatra (charter of demand) in his presence,” Om Prakash says.
The marginal farmer, a self-confessed Congress loyalist, also enthusiastically points out that Rahul also spoke to his daughter Archita.
“He spoke to me and I told him that I want to be a chemist. He wanted to know why not a doctor and I said because of lack of money,” 16-year-old Archita says.
What was Rahul’s reply, the reporters ask in chorus. “Wo kuch nahi bole,” she walks off and so do the reporters.