Chandigarh,April 18: Holding a rally for farmers is good politics. And the Congress is pulling out all stops to ensure the success of a rally to be addressed by party vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Sunday, arranging free rides and “drinks” for those who attend.
All sitting party MLAs and defeated party candidates from 117 assembly constituencies have been tasked by the Congress general secretary in-charge for Punjab, Shakeel Ahmed, to bring two buses of supporters from each constituency to the rally in Delhi against the NDA government’s land acquisition bill.
The arrangements on-board the buses promised by some leaders range from free lunch to free “drinks” on the way back home, sources said.
“We are not promising any money to those going for the rally. But we have provided for two boxes of liquor per bus,” said a Congress leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The expenses for each bus to ferry farmers from Punjab would add up to anywhere between Rs 20,000 and Rs 25,000, including the cost of hiring the vehicle, fuel, food and “drinks”.
While this works out to 234 buses, Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee president Partap Singh Bajwa pegged the figure at more 350.
“Many people will also reach Delhi in private vehicles. There would be at least 200 people from each constituency. So there will be over 20,000 from Punjab alone,” Bajwa said. He put the average expenses for each bus at Rs 20,000.
But Congress leaders acknowledged that luring farmers for the rally at a time when the harvesting of wheat is on was not easy.
“April 19 was not an ideal date owing to the harvest season. But the Congress wanted to have the rally before the parliament session began. Untimely rains have delayed harvesting of wheat and farmers are willing to come,” a source in the party said.
Those with contacts have arranged buses for lower payments. “The bus operator has asked for just token money. We will foot the bill for the fuel. Those travelling from my constituency will be served food at Rohtak in Haryana,” said Ajit Inder Mofar, the MLA from Sardulgarh.
The Jat Mahasabha headed by Bajwa’s bete noire, former Punjab chief minister and deputy leader of the party in Lok Sabha, Capt Amarinder Singh, will have its own show of strength.
It will ferry farmers, a majority of them Jats, in around 75 buses – at least three from each district.
“The buses will halt at Majnu-ka-tilla in Delhi for tea and langar. But the cost of hiring the bus, lunch and other expenses would come to nearly Rs 30,000,” said Punjab Jat Sabha president and former legislator Kushaldeep Dhillon.
Amarinder Singh has asked sitting and former MLAs loyal to him to bring their supporters under the Jat Mahasabha banner, the state Congress unit too has asked them to contribute two buses in line with the party’s order.
The Congress rally is also expected to witness a show of strength between the former Haryana and Punjab chief ministers through a “turban war”. Amarinder Singh has asked his loyalists and members of the Jat Mahasabha to sport ‘kesari’ (saffron) turbans while former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda has asked his men to don pink turbans.
Punjab Jat Mahasabha president Kushaldeep Dhillon explained, “Kesari has been the colour of Jat Mahasabha for decades. Since the splinter group of the Mahasabha in Haryana will be sporting pink turbans, we have decided to wear kesari to distinguish ourselves from them.”