Interacting with the fishermen community in Kerala, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi whipped up a storm once again on Wednesday (February 24) with his demand for a separate fisheries ministry, despite being admonished last week by the Centre that India already has one.
The MP from Wayanad, who is touring poll-bound Kerala for the past two days, was on a bonding trip with the local fishermen at Thangassery beach in Kerala’s Kollam district. The leader, who “always wanted to experience the life of a fisherman” went out into the sea along with the fishermen in the wee hours of the morning.
Gandhi, togged up in an informal blue t-shirt and khaki trousers, also cast the net and tried to catch fish, said an NDTV report. He was accompanied on his fishing expedition by Congress general secretary KC Venugopal and TN Prathapan MP, and chairman of National Fishermen Congress.
After spending an hour with them, Gandhi wearing the traditional white kurta once again addressed them at a designated venue. Here, he shared details of his fishing experience and how he had managed to catch just one fish. Empathising with their hard life, Gandhi said, that early morning he had gone out to sea with his “brothers” and watched “their entire labour” and the risks they took. And, “somebody else walks away with the profit”, he said.
In his experience too the net had come back empty, he pointed out.
And, then went on to add that he works a lot with farmers. “They now have three bills and the idea is to destroy agriculture. Just like our farmers farm the land, you farm the sea. The farmers have a Ministry in Delhi, but you don’t have one. No one speaks for you in Delhi,” said Gandhi, and went on to promise the fishing community in Kollam that the first thing he would do is “to have a ministry dedicated for fisherman”, so that they are defended and protected.
This promise has once again raked up the controversy about Gandhi’s lack of knowledge about an already existing Department of Fisheries, under the Ministry of Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying. He had recently made the same pledge in Puducherry, which will also go to the polls shortly. Calling the fishermen in the Union Territory as “farmers of the sea”, he had talked of the importance of setting up a separate ministry for fisheries.
While, he was applauded by the crowd in Puducherry last week, it was not long before BJP leaders tweeted about his “gaffe”. It was the Minister for Fisheries, Giriraj Singh, who set the record straight by stating that a separate Ministry for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairying was formed by the Prime Minister in 2019. Mocking the Congress leader’s ignorance and attempt to “spread misinformation”, he had added that “Gandhi can’t come out of Italy.”
He had even tweeted in Italian a comment which roughly translated as: “Dear Raul, there is no separate Ministry of Fisheries in Italy. It comes under the Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policies.”
After Gandhi supposedly made the same mistake in Kerala this time, Union Minister RK Singh urged senior Congress leaders to step in and make Gandhi understand “so that he doesn’t make such statements. “He (Rahul Gandhi) had said the same thing in the past after which Giriraj Singh Ji said that a Fisheries Ministry already exists,” Singh said.
Meanwhile, in his address to the fisherfolk in Kerala, Gandhi said that a separate manifesto will be prepared for the fisherfolk by the UDF leaders in the upcoming assembly elections.
Gandhi also criticised the ruling LDF government over a deep sea fishing contract. The Congress-led UDF has made some allegations against the Left government in awarding a deep sea fishing contract to an US-based company. This had caused a lot of controversy, which led the Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to direct the officials concerned to cancel the MoU between EMCC, the US-based firm and Kerala State Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC), a public sector undertaking. The CM had asked for a probe into the circumstances under which it was signed.
“I am for competition…but not for unfair competition. So, there should be a level playing field for everyone,” said Gandhi, over the alleged use of trawlers by the US company.