Puducherry, Feb 17 (IANS) In a strong bid to attract the fishermen community, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday appealed to the poor in the country to unite and organise themselves to demand their rights from the ruling BJP.
Interacting with fishermen at the coastal village Muthailpet along with Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy here, Gandhi alleged that the union government is systematically dismantling all small and medium enterprises as they want them to be controlled by one or two big corporate entities.
“The union government gets such courage only because it is poor who are in the country’s more disorganised sector. We are busy fighting among ourselves. Whereas the rich are very organised and fight unitedly. Even during the Covid pandemic, these rich were able to secure more than Rs 1.5 lakh crore loans, while on the other hand the poor were asked to pay for their bus or rail fare when they were migrating during the same period,” he explained
He added that the union government has brought in three farm laws which are causing the farmers tremendous pain.
“The Union government seems to have completely forgotten that farmers are the backbone of the country whereas I consider fishermen as the farmers of the sea,” he contended.
Emphasising that the views of the Congress party over protecting SME sector are different, he asserted that the party wants to strengthen small and medium businesses which are the strength of this country. “Demonetisation, hurried implementation of GST and all others are to weaken the small businesses,” he alleged.
“What the Modi government wants is that one or two very rich people control the sea, but the Congress wants lakhs of fishermen to control it,” he argued.
Responding to questions and grievances expressed by fishermen, the majority being women, on their education, livelihood and employment, Gandhi said that when he comes here the next time, they should take him to the sea in their fishing boat so that he could understand their real problems.
Answering a question pertaining to the media not publishing the issues of the poor, Gandhi said the media is not owned by poor people and is an instrument of a few business houses, adding it is very important that poor people organise themselves.
Obliquely referring to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s scheduled visit to Puducherry on February 25, Gandhi said that politicians will come and give a speech about their views and go away but do not listen to people’s problems, while for him what people think is more important than what he thinks about a particular problem.
“Instead of speaking to you about your problems from my perspective, I wish to know from you about your problems,” he said.
Most of the fishermen demanded that their community be brought under the Scheduled Tribe category in order to get jobs and better education opportunities.
An M.Phil degree holder, who claimed that she was the first from her community to get such a degree, wanted Gandhi to address the ST reservation category in order to get a good educational opportunity. “I am M.Phil in English Literature but am still struggling to get admission to Doctorate course in a Central University, but as the community has not got an ST category, I have not been able to fulfil my dream. Had our community been ST category I would have been the first woman to complete my doctorate from Central university,” she said in English.
As this woman rose to speak, she began speaking in English, Gandhi butted in and asserted that he had come to the land of Tamil-speaking people, he wanted to hear Tamil first.
Though she tried to justify her stand to speak in English, he insisted that she was free to translate her problems in English later, but she should first explain her problems in Tamil itself.
Apart from this, fishermen said they wanted a subsidy for fibre boats as given in Tamil Nadu, employment opportunities, protection of their coastal land as done for forest land among others.
An elderly woman Alamelu wanted Gandhi to redress the issue of demonetisation when he came to power, while another old woman alleged that land on which the programme is organised was sold to rich people. “This is land where we keep our fishing nets, parking our boats and used to dry fish, has been given to rich people. I want you (Gandhi) to save this land for us,” she said.
She also faulted Chief Minister V. Narayanasamy (then an MP) for not visiting them during the tsunami and understanding their difficulties.
As he was leaving, fishermen requested Gandhi to eat food with them, but as he arrived here an hour late, he had to leave for the interaction with the students at Bharathidasan Government College for Women.
Earlier, on arrival at the venue, he was given a rousing welcome by Parliamentary Secretary K. Lakshminarayanan and his team of Congressmen who organised the interactive meeting.