Aligarh: Winding up his four-day 'padyatra' in the battle against Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Saturday accused her government of acquiring farmers' lands for golf courses and racing tracks and firing upon poor farmers when they protest.

Rahul's Padyatra in pics

Addressing a Kisan Mahapanchayat, capping his 70-km foot march through the villages of Greater Noida and Aligarh district, he rejected criticism that he was enacting a "drama", apparently referring to Mayawati's description of his march as "nautanki".

Using some strong words for his rival in the campaign seen as preparations for the next year Assembly elections, Gandhi said that in Uttar Pradesh a farmer gets to know about the acquisition of his land only when the builder comes and tells him that the land belongs to him.

"In UP, we are not against development or making roads. But this land is being taken away to make golf courses, colonies and racing track from farmers and that is why they are angry.

"The farmer says if in Lucknow a rich person's land is taken he is given the market rate but when it comes to a poor farmer he is fired upon, beaten, and government does not talk to us," Gandhi said.

An estimated crowd of about 10,000-15,000 farmers attended the Mahapanchayat, whose venue became soggy in early morning rains, capping the padyatra that began in the villages of Bhatta-Parsaul, the epicenter of a violent agitation against land acquisition in Greater Noida in May. Dismissing criticism about his campaign, Gandhi said many people felt it was a drama. "A politician needs to go to people and talk to them and that is what I believe," he said.

Referring to land acquisition law, Gandhi said some farmers are worried about it because it is old and they have problems with it.

Gandhi said after the agitation in Bhatta-Parsaul, Mayawati came out with a new policy on land acquisition which he said will not benefit the affected people there. "That is why I set out on this padyatra," he added.

The Congress leader maintained that though development was talked about in Delhi, his party wanted it to reach equally everywhere.

"Not that only few people get the benefits of development and our farmers, dalits, adivasis lag behind. This is how we think. That's why we gave you NREGA. Even labourers in UP are suffering," he said.

He alleged that though the Centre wanted to implement NREGA for the benefit of farmers and labourers, the UP government was not implementing it.

Farmers cheer Rahul for snubbing Maya's remark

A congregation of farmers erupted in cheers on Saturday when Rahul Gandhi snubbed Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati for terming his 'padayatra' a 'drama' by saying he would not mind this tag for his contact with poor.

"If some people think this is a drama, (nautanki). If they feel so, that is fine with me. I think that a politician should talk to the people and should be among them. You are justly asking for your rights," he said as he struck a instant chord with farmers who descended upon the Exhibition Grounds in this town for the "kisan mahapanchayat".

Rahul later echoed their concerns from a dais packed with top Congress leaders including Minority Affairs Minister Salmaan Khursheed, Ministers of State RPN Singh, Jitin Prasad and Sachin Pilot and State Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi, while AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh and many other Congress leaders were seen moving below the stage below.

Having struck the right note, Rahul managed to garner some generous praises from farmer representatives who spoke alongside Congress leaders from the dais.

One of them said, "You are not a leader who wants to satisfy farmers by mere words. You are genuinely wiping their tears by listening to their woes."

Rahul's Mahapanchayat ‘total flop’: Rival parties

Terming the Congress "kisan Mahapanchayat " addressed by Rahul Gandhi in Aligarh on Saturday as a "total flop", BSP claimed a majority of the people present at the venue consisted of nomination-seekers for coming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh.

A BSP spokesman here said almost 80 per cent of the crowd in the mahapanchayat was ticket-seekers while farmers' presence was only twenty per cent.

"The crowd had been lured with a promise of tickets in the coming elections and the fact is that farmers have been betrayed in the name of rally", he charged.

Meanwhile, BJP also termed the 'mahapanchayat' as a "flop" event. Rahul Gandhi had been personally mobilising the farmers in the area for the past few days and after Bihar he has been proved as a "failure" in Uttar Pradesh also, BJP spokesman Manoj Misra said alleging he has "failed" to live up to expectatins of farmers on a serious issue like land acquisition.

Samajwadi Party spokesman Rajendra Chaudhary termed the mahapanchayat as a "useless exercise" and alleged both the UP and central governments are reponsilble for the problems faced by farmers.

BJP calls Rahul's padyatra a 'political tour'

BJP on Saturday said Rahul Gandhi's padyatra in Uttar Pradesh would be treated merely as a "political tour" unless the Congress governments increase land acquisition compensations to farmers in states like Maharashtra and explain why farmer suicides were taking place.

"Gandhi should first go into the questions of why 10 lakh farmer suicides have taken place in the country. Before asking the UP government what injustice it is doing to farmers, he should answer why injustice was done and atrocities visited on the unarmed, innocent people at Ramlila grounds by the police," BJP President Nitin Gadkari said.

"The land acquisition compensation in Maharashtra is even less that UP. Farmers are exploited there. If Gandhi stops this then people will believe him else this is just a political tour," Gadkari said.

Rahul should lead Jaitapur agitation: Shiv Sena

If Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was so concerned about farmers' land issues and their harassment, he should visit Jaitapur in Maharashtra and lead the agitation of local farmers and fishermen against the proposed nuclear power plant there, Shiv Sena said on Saturday.

 "Rahul should visit Jaitapur and lead the agitation. We will also join in," Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray said.

"Rahul has waged an agitation against the Mayawati government, saying that farmers' lands cannot be acquired by force. He has also undertaken padyatras. This is nothing but a farce by Rahul and Congress," Uddhav said.

"All this is a political nautanki (drama)," the Sena leader said.

"On one hand, you undertake padyatra for farmers in Uttar Pradesh, and on the other, take farmers' lives here. Stop this drama. If you have courage, fight for Jaitapur farmers. We will leave political differences aside and join you," Uddhav said.

(JPN/ Agencies)