Farrukhabad (Uttar Pradesh): Rahul Gandhi came down firmly on the side of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over the much-disputed question of allowing overseas investment in multi-brand retail, in the first such public display of support for the measure.
The Congress party general secretary used the opposition’s resistance to the reform move as the thrust of his poll address in Farrukhabad on Friday during the second leg of his election campaign in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.
Firming up: Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi during his campaign rally in Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh. Photo: PTI
Gandhi accused the opposition parties of being “anti-farmer” for forcing the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance federal government to suspend the move.
He said farmers will benefit from the greater participation of foreign retailers in the sector.
“If it was implemented, farmers could sell their potatoes directly to them and they would have benefited,” he said. “But the opposition parties have stalled it. They are anti-farmer. We wanted FDI in retail to do justice to farmers. You wait and see, we will bring it in the coming days.”
Gandhi told a crowd in Chibramau in Kannauj district that he had visited a potato farm where the crop had been abandoned. FDI will help farmers avoid such a prospect by allowing them to sell produce directly to end-users.
“How much do you get for 1kg of potatoes? One rupee. Do you know how much a packet of potato chips costs? Ten rupees. Do you know how many potatoes are used for that? Just half a potato... that’s why we wanted FDI, so that you will get better prices for it,” Gandhi said.
Potato farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have stopped harvesting their crop because of an unprecedented glut.
Those who oppose the move to open up the retail sector say such a step will put small, family-run stores out of business, thus rendering those who work there jobless.
Parliament was brought to a standstill by the row until the government agreed to suspend the measure to open up retail.
Gandhi, who’s heading the Congress campaign in an attempt to revive its fortunes in Uttar Pradesh, has been addressing public rallies at Badaun, Shajahanpur and Farrukhabad districts. The region produces a significant proportion of the country’s potato crop.
Both the Uttar Pradesh ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the opposition Samajwadi Party (SP) opposed the retail reform move in Parliament. Chief minister Mayawati of the BSP even alleged that the decision was taken to help Gandhi’s “foreign friends”.
Prime Minister Singh and his government had argued that the entry of retail giants such as Wal-Mart would benefit farmers and consumers, raising prices for the first and lowering them for the second by making procurement and the supply chain more efficient. Singh has said the plan will be revived.
Farrukhabad is the Lok Sabha constituency of Union law minister Salman Khurshid. His wife and Congress leader Louise Khurshid is contesting as a candidate for the state assembly from the area.
Gandhi also kept up his attacks against Mayawati, accusing her of siphoning off funds released by the central government for the poor.
He also took on SP leader Mulayam Singh. Gandhi said the SP’s aversion to English and computers was aimed at preventing the poor from gaining access to education and opportunities.
That’s “because, once poor children get access to it, they will get good education, they will go out of Uttar Pradesh and abroad and they will start demanding development and jobs in the state”.
He added: “Mulayam Singh is against English and computers, but not for his son Akhilesh Singh. Akhilesh speaks to me in English, he works on the computer...”