Assam tea, identity take centrestage as Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi canvass northeastern state

Building on the party's 'five guarantees' campaign for the Assam polls, the Congress launched its manifesto promising Rs 2,000 per month for every housewife and law to nullify the CAA

FP Staff March 20, 2021 22:26:40 IST
Assam tea, identity take centrestage as Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi canvass northeastern state

Rahul Gandhi and other Assam Congress members unveiled the party's manifesto on Saturday. Twitter@INCIndia

Electioneering in Assam is reaching the home stretch with parties gear up for the first phase of the state Assembly election, scheduled for 1 April. Both Prime Minister and BJP leader Narendra Modi and Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Saturday hit the campaign trail in the state in a bid to draw support for candidates from their respective parties.

The Congress also released its manifesto for the three-phased polls. Rahul was joined by Congress MP Gautam Gogoi, All India Mahila Congress chief Sushmita Dev, APCC president Ripun Bora, and other Assam Congress office-bearers at the manifesto-unveiling event in Guwahati.

Building on the party's 'five guarantees' campaign for the Assam polls, Congress Saturday promised Rs 2,000 per month for every housewife in the state and law to nullify the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) if voted to power in the state.

Releasing the document, Rahul targeted the BJP, which is currently leading a coalition government in Assam. He said that the saffron party and its affiliate, the RSS, are "attacking" the idea of Assam.

Speaking to reporters at the launch of the manifesto, Rahul said that Congress will defend Assam's culture, language, tradition, history, and way of thinking. "This is our commitment. You are aware that BJP and RSS are attacking the diverse culture of India and Assam. We will defend that," he said.

"Though Congress symbol is there in the document, actually it is the people's manifesto. It contains the aspirations of the people of Assam," he said.

In its manifesto, Congress also promised five lakh government jobs and 200 units of free electricity per month for all, besides hiking the minimum wages of tea garden workers to Rs 365.

BJP's campaign to retain power in the state was bolstered by Modi's rally in Dibrugarh's Chabua area on Saturday. Both Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah have been actively involved in the party's campaign in Assam.

The prime minister accused the Congress of "openly supporting" forces that are out to "end the identity" of Assam tea and destroy its tea industry.

Modi addressed an election rally in Chabua a day after Rahul had interacted with tea garden workers in the town.

Meanwhile, jailed Raijor Dal chief Akhil Gogoi also appealed to voters through an open letter on Saturday. In the letter, he appealed to the people to "save Assam" and vote for the strongest non-BJP candidate in every constituency in the polls.

Gogoi, contesting from the Sibsagar constituency, is currently in jail in connection with anti-CAA protests. His letter was read out by his political outfit's advisor Dr Sitanath Kahkar at a press conference in Guwahati.

"I am sending this letter from jail to save Assam and its people's future from the anti-democratic BJP," Gogoi said.

Asserting that the future of Assam and its people is "dark under BJP rule", the Raijor Dal leader urged all those who oppose the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the BJP to unitedly vote against the saffron party in the 2021 Assembly election.

"Assam's future will depend on the people and they have to take the final decision to save the state. If Assam is to be saved then do not vote for BJP or those in favour of CAA," he appealed.

"This party has sold the assets of Assam and kept the future of the state in custody of Delhi. Therefore, we must unitedly defeat BJP and its alliance partners in the election. It is the call of the times and our duty to do so. It is a matter of life and death," Gogoi asserted.

BJP's attack on Badruddin Ajmal is attack on Assam, says Rahul Gandhi

Addressing a press conference in Guwahati after releasing the Congress' manifesto, Rahul addressed Modi and Shah's repeated statements about his party's alliance with Lok Sabha MP Badruddin Ajmal-led AIUDF.

Modi, Shah, BJP national president JP Nadda, and Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh are among the BJP leaders who have raised the issue of AIUDF's alliance with the Congress at their election rallies.

The "vilification" of the AIUDF is an attack on Assam, its brotherhood and peace, Rahul said, when asked about the BJP slamming the alliance.

The BJP and RSS have damaged the state and the country by demonetisation and GST, he alleged. "It is only about 'Hum Do, Humare Do' (we two, our two). It has destroyed the country. Our manifesto in Assam is a step towards rectifying those damages. It is an attempt to give a foundation to Assam," Rahul told reporters after releasing the party's manifesto.

"It is not about Ajmal, but to protect the culture, language, tradition, history and identity of Assam," he said.

Rahul campaigns for Congress candidates in Gohpur, Mariani

Rahul also addressed poll rallies in Gohpur and Mariani constituencies on Saturday.

He blamed the ruling BJP for "handing over" the entire state to outsiders and accused Modi of working only for two-three richest industrialists and not the general public of the country or for their welfare.

Hitting out at the ruling BJP for "handing over" Assam to outsiders, he said, "The government spent Rs 2,000 crore of your money to modernise Guwahati airport. Now the airport has been snatched from you and given to Adani. This way everything in the country is being given to two-three richest businessmen friends of the prime minister."

Rahul said if a Congress chief minister assumes power in Assam the 'five guarantees' promised by the party will be implemented.

Mounting his attack, the Congress leader said, "Modi had talked about 'Make in India'. But look at the labels of the products you are using. They are all 'Made in China'. That is because the prime minister broke the backbone of entrepreneurs through demonetisation and imposition of GST.

"GST was introduced promising simple tax and benefit for all. Modi brought it with five different taxes and highest at 28 percent. Thousands of industries were shut down due to these two decisions. Modi says something but does something else," the former Congress president said.

"He (Modi) waived taxes and loans of two-three industrialists, but did nothing for you. He even attacked the farmers by bringing in the three farm acts. That is why we have brought the five guarantees for you," Rahul said.

Charging the BJP administration with failing to fill up vacant government jobs, Rahul said when Congress forms the government it will first fill up these posts and then give incentives to the private sector to create jobs.

"I never lie. See what I had said before polls in Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Punjab. I said farmers loans will be waived. Within six hours of forming government in Chhattisgarh, it was done. Likewise, every promise in other states was fulfilled," he added.

Narendra Modi says Oppn targeting Assam tea

In his speech, Modi alleged that the Opposition party is playing with the "pride and glory" of the oldest industry (tea) of the state. He claimed that a toolkit recently sought to defame Assam tea, famous across the world, and Yoga, the legacy of India's ancient saints, as part of a "conspiracy".

"A conspiracy was hatched against Assam tea. You must have heard about a toolkit. It sought to destroy the tea gardens of Assam. No Indian will allow that," he claimed.

The 'toolkit' that Modi was apparently referring to is largely related to the farmers' protest. However, PTI reported that the document also carries mention of a plan to "disrupt yoga and chai image of India in general".

The toolkit was shared on Twitter by Swedish environmentalist Greta Thunberg and seeks to provide ways in which people can participate in the farmers' protest.

"Congress is supporting such forces. And while doing so it has the temerity to come here and seek votes of the tea garden workers. They have fallen so low. They will be punished. Who can understand the problems of tea workers better than a 'chaiwallah'?" Modi said.

Assam tea, full-bodied and strong, has often been raked up in electoral discourse during the campaign for the Assembly elections.

Earlier this month, Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra wore the traditional 'mekhla chador', attempted a few steps of 'jhumur' and learned how to fling with ease freshly plucked tea leaves into the wicker basket fastened to her back while on the campaign trail in Assam.

Rahul, while electioneering in Assam, criticised the Sarbananda Sonowal government for the poor wages of tea garden workers.

"Assam's tea garden workers get Rs 167 as daily wage while traders from Gujarat get tea gardens. We will raise the daily wage of tea garden workers to Rs 365 per day. From where the money will come? It will come from the traders from Gujarat," he had told an election rally in Sivasagar on Friday.

In his speech, Modi said a few days ago the Congress had circulated photographs of Sri Lankan tea gardens and before that of Taiwan, passing them off as tea gardens of Assam.

"A mistake can happen once, but when it has been repeated, it shows the mentality. This is injustice and insult to the beautiful land of Assam," the prime minister said.

"The mask is off the faces of those who talk of Assam's 'asmita' (identity)," he said, attacking Congress. Speaking about the increase in the daily wage of tea garden workers, the prime minister alleged the Congress was "spreading lies" over it.

The BJP, Modi said, was committed to increasing their wages and the Sarbananda Sonowal government had taken steps for its implementation but the matter landed in court where it was pending.

Renewing his pledge to raise the standard of living of tea garden workers, the prime minister said the Centre and the Assam government were working in tandem to provide them with better healthcare and education facilities, housing, toilets, gas connection and Clean drinking water .

The tea gardens of Assam, he said, can become an integral part of his 'Atmanirbhar Bharat' Mission by exporting organic tea not only to other states but also abroad.

He claimed the Congress, despite ruling the state for decades, was far removed from the people and culture of Assam. "I have travelled across the North East and attempted to embrace its culture. You have seen me wearing 'Gamocha'. It is a matter of pride and honour for me but the Congress makes fun of even this," he said.

The Congress has entered into an alliance with those who pose a threat to 'asmita aur sanskriti' (identity and culture) of the nation and this shows the hollowness of the national party, he said, without naming them.

"They (Congress) are releasing a manifesto of lies today. Their leader is moving around with a box of lies and false promises and you should be careful of him," Modi said.

Accusing the Congress of having done nothing for the indigenous population of Assam for decades that it was in power, Modi said the Sonowal government had distributed land ownership 'patta' to three lakh such families.

Modi will address an election rally in Bokakhat on Sunday.

With inputs from PTI

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