New Delhi: The Congress party is putting its house in order as it prepares to shift gears on the agrarian crisis facing the nation—projected as one of its main poll issues against the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
The Congress plans to revive its Kisan Khet Majdoor cell, which has been inactive for years, in a bid to sharpen its attack on the government and reach out to the farming community.
The move is significant because the Congress party aims to make rural distress its main poll plank against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The cell is being revived with an eye on reaching out to both farmers and farm labourers.
“There is a growing concern over farm distress. Our internal farmers’ cell has been inactive for a while. But we are looking to revive it and it will be active soon," a member of the Congress’ top leadership said requesting anonymity.
The internal cells of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) are aimed at targeting particular groups like Dalits, tribals, professionals, unorganized workers, etc., in order to raise their issues and expand the party’s political footprint.
“The Congress president has revived all the departments of the party since taking over, and the remaining departments including the Kisan Khet Majdoor cell will be revived and reinvigorated soon," said Randeep Singh Surjewala, chief spokesperson of the Congress party.
Party veterans said the cell was last active under Shamsher Singh Surjewala, a senior party leader from Haryana and father of Randeep Singh Surjewala, who had rallied the party over the cause of farmers. Following his deteriorating health condition, Shamsher Singh Surjewala resigned nearly four years ago and the cell has been largely inactive since then.
A section of party leaders feel that the cell has been ignored for long and needs the focus of the party for a revival.
“It used to be a prestigious and important cell at one point and some of the party stalwarts have headed it. In the past few years, it has been largely ignored and is now reduced to letterheads only. When we are raising issues of farm distress so vociferously, it is high time we revived the cell," a party veteran from Uttar Pradesh said, requesting anonymity.
The Congress, however, feels that the cell’s inactivity has not hampered the party’s efforts to raise farmers’ issues.
“Has it precluded or deferred Congress president or party’s espousing, raising and championing the causes of farmers? We have put the rights of farmers at the centre stage. Whether a department is there or not is a small issue in the larger spectrum of things," Randeep Singh Surjewala said when asked about the criticism over the cell being ignored.
The Congress’s attempts at reviving the cell comes in the backdrop of a protracted period of agrarian distress in India. From sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh to cotton and dairy farmers in Maharashtra, discontent among farmers is widespread.
Growth in rural wages, adjusted for inflation, fell to -0.9% in March, after registering a steady fall every month since November last year.