Deoria: Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday began a 2,500-km 'Kisan Yatra', accusing the Narendra Modi government of ignoring the plight of farmers.
Addressing a huge gathering at Rudrapur in Deoria district, Gandhi said Modi was ready to waive off loans of rich corporates but wasn't willing to do that in the case of farmers.
"Modiji is writing off loans of rich corporates. He should do the same for farmers in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere in the country," he said.
"We have embarked on this Yatra to know the problems of the farmers and to help Modiji understand the situation too."
Gandhi, whose Yatra will take him to 39 districts spread over 55 of the 80 Lok Sabha constituencies in Uttar Pradesh, declared that he and his party would always stand by the distressed farmers.
Addressing a rally at Banwari Tola in Siswa Mahant village, he said: "We will not allow an inch of their land to be taken forcibly for developmental or any other purposes.
"Your fight is mine," he told the gathering. He also accused Modi of stopping all welfare programmes started by the earlier Congress-led UPA government.
Gandhi suggested that the government could help the farmers in three ways.
One, by writing off loans taken by them. Second, by slashing electricity bills to half and third by increasing the minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.
"In the UPA government, we waived off farmers' loans worth Rs 70,000 crore. We also kept revising MSP, which this government is not doing," the Congress leader said.
Gandhi demanded to know why there was a huge gap between the market price of pulses and the price at which farmers sell them.
"Farmers sell pulses at Rs 40 per kilogram but its market price is around Rs 200. I ask Modiji, why is there such a huge difference?
"Where is the difference money going? It is being pocketed by middlemen."
He added: "Kisano ka dukh hamara dukh hai (We can feel farmers' pain as our own)."
Gandhi rued that a region once considered a sugar bowl was lying in a state of neglect with most sugar mills shut down. He blamed both the state and central governments for the crisis.
"Now most mills have shut down. Who is responsible for this? The state and central governments."
Earlier, Gandhi offered prayers at a Shiva temple - Baba Dugdheshwarnath - and then started his Yatra in a specially designed bus.
Dressed in a white starched kurta and a blue jeans, Gandhi had tea at a Dalit's home on way to Kushinagar, 15 km from Deoria city. He munched corn at a roadside halt.
Reminding farmers of MNREGA, which the Congress government initiated, Gandhi alleged that Modi had scrapped the scheme.
During Gandhi's month-long Yatra, he will be holding rallies and 'khat chaupals' to interact with farmers.
The first such event went awry on Tuesday when soon after the event ended with Gandhi speech, farmers jostled to grab some 2,000 string cots which were bought by the Congress.
The Congress leader was greeted by huge crowds as he reached Deoria. Crowds showered rose petals on the vehicles accompanying Gandhi, who waved at the people lining the streets.
He will spend the night at the Gorakhpur circuit house. Uttar Pradesh will see assembly elections early next year.