Farmers committing suicide are cowards, says minister

Rahul Gandhi takes a dig at prime minister Modi after Dhankar remarks, triggers uproar in House

By (Reuters, IANS, PTI)

Published: Thu 30 Apr 2015, 11:17 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Jun 2015, 8:41 PM

It would be good if the prime minister goes to Punjab, meets farmers and goes to the wholesale markets,’ says Rahul Gandhi. — PTI

New Delhi - An Indian state minister who heads the farmers’ wing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party has drawn flak from the opposition for branding as “cowards” some farmers who committed suicide after unseasonal rains destroyed their crops.

Dozens of poverty-stricken, debt-laden farmers have killed themselves in the past two months after heavy downpours flattened rice, wheat and potato crops.

In many rural areas, discontent with government policies is turning to anger against Modi as he completes a year in office.

Tuesday’s comments by the farm minister of Haryana, one of India’s northern breadbasket states, could further alienate those in the countryside, where the opposition Congress party is trying to broaden its appeal to voters.

“Any farmer committing suicide is running away from his responsibilities, leaving behind his burden on his innocent wife and children,” Om Prakash Dhankar, who is also chief of the farmers’ wing of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters in images aired by national media on Wednesday.

“Such people are cowards. No government can stand by them.”

In parliament on Wednesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, scion of the country’s most famous political family, pulled up the government for Dhankar’s remarks, urging Modi to visit farms and acquaint himself with conditions there.

“The farmers are crying, they are in distress, but Dhankar says those who commit suicide are cowards,” said Gandhi, who recently returned from a mysterious eight-week foreign break. Gandhi took a swipe at the prime minister’s ‘Make in India’ initiative, questioning whether farmers are not contributing to ‘Make in India’ by providing food to the entire country.

“It would be good if the prime minister goes to Punjab, meets farmers and goes to the wholesale markets,” Gandhi added, in a reference to India’s top wheat producing state. “He will get to know for himself what’s happening.

“Farmer growing wheat is also ‘Make in India. When there was hailstorm, the government did not help. State governmments used to give bonus, farmers tolerated its non-payment. Farmers were lathicharged when they asked for fertiliser. Now their produce is not being lifted from mandis,” he said.

The attack resulted in a ruckus in the lower house, with members of the ruling alliance protesting the comments.

Contending that the prime minister is not only concerned about the welfare of farmers, Union Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said he has proactively taken several steps to help the farmers hit hard by unseasonal rains and hailstorm.

Paswan, responding to the Congress leader, said: “We are doing the work which you didn’t do for the nation.” Following the ruckus, the house was briefly adjourned.

Minister for Food Processing Harsimrat Kaur Badal countered Gandhi saying that though the Congress vice president has visited Punjab, he was yet to visit his own constituency.

“I would like to ask him when the farmers were suffering inclement weather, including hail storms, where was he then?”

“Some people have come back and to reinvent themselves they are playing a drama here. They should do so in Amethi (Rahul Gandhi’s constituency),” she said.

After Gandhi’s speech, Dhankar told reporters he stood by his comment that commiting suicide is a crime under Indian law, but added his government had given farmers every assistance.

 Experts say suicide is common among poor Indian farmers who borrow money at exorbitant rates, staking everything on the outcome of a single crop, with no farm insurance.  

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