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Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi on Monday attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi over note ban, GST and the 'Gujarat model' of development as he started a three-day tour of the poll-bound state where his party has been out of power for over two decades.
The 47-year-old Congress leader, who started the day by offering prayers at the famous Dwarkadhish Temple here, interacted with people during a roadshow.
He also had a bullock cart ride on the Dwarka-Jamnagar route in Saurashtra where he was welcomed at several places.
Gandhi was greeted by Hardik Patel, quota stir spearhead and a bitter critic of the BJP dispensation in the state. Hardik welcomed Gandhi to Gujarat, the home state of Modi, through a tweet this morning.
"Congress ke rashtriya upadhyaksh Rahulji ka Gujarat mae hardik swagat hai..Jay Shri Krishna (a warm welcome to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in Gujarat...)," Patel tweeted.
In his short speeches at various places, Gandhi assailed Modi over demonetisation and a host of other issues.
He highlighted the issue of unemployment under the NDA rule and promised to solve the problems being faced by Gujarat farmers if his party is voted to power in the state.
Gandhi, travelling in a specially-designed bus, sought to connect with villagers by interacting with them at regular intervals.
From Dwarka, Gandhi headed to Hanjrapar, where he was accorded a traditional welcome by villagers. He even took a bullock cart ride to show solidarity with the farming community.
At Hanjrapar, he interacted with villagers and responded to some of their questions.
Gandhi came down heavily on Gujarat's BJP government on the issue of privatisation. He alleged the government has snatched the right of affordable education and health from the poor by introducing privatisation.
"Privatisation is happening in every sector under this government, be it education or health sector. Due to this policy of the BJP government, poor people are not getting education or health services.
"The government must make sure that people are not deprived of these basic facilities," Gandhi said in his brief speech.
He promised to provide free medicines and medical treatment if the Congress is voted to power in Gujarat.
Accusing the BJP government of being "anti-farmer", Gandhi demanded that the government announce complete farm loan waiver for cultivators in Gujarat.
"If the government can waive loans given to businessmen, why not farmers? The Indian government gave away Rs 1.30 lakh crore to 15 large business houses while Rs 7 lakh crore in loans were not returned to banks. They (businessmen) will get all the benefits, while you (farmers) will be jailed for not repaying loans," said Gandhi.
The Congress MP also posed questions to the media on the issue of farm loan waiver.
"The media questions my demand for farm loan waiver, claiming it will spoil farmers. I want to ask them whether the same applies to businesses or not. How come they do not get spoilt? I firmly believe if business houses are given relief, the farmers must also get relief by way of waiver."
Before visiting Hanjrapar, Gandhi made several halts along the route, including at Bhatia village. In his address there, Gandhi slammed the Modi government for "failing" to address basic problems of people.
He said around 20,000 educated youths come out of institutes every day in search of jobs but the central government manages to give employment to only 400 of them.
"You go to any corner of this country and ask farmers whether they get proper price for their produce. All of them will promptly say, no," Gandhi said.
When the Congress vice president asked people gathered outside his bus whether farmers in Gujarat are getting remunerative prices for groundnut produced by them, they responded with a resounding "No".
"Our Prime Minister Narendra Modiji declared demonetisation without consulting anyone. This was a massive blow to our economy.
"Farmers were badly hit, as they do not do the transaction through phone or debit card. They use cash to buy seeds or pay to farm labourers," said Gandhi.
He claimed the Goods and Services Tax (GST) has broken the back of small traders and shopkeepers.
Gandhi said though the Congress told the government to keep only one tax rate under the GST, it introduced five different slabs. He claimed lakhs of businesses have been shut due to the GST.
He alleged the poor have no place in the 'Gujarat model' of development, which according to him, benefited only a handful of businessmen.
"Business houses get everything, be it water, land or electricity. But, the poor are always neglected. This is the difference between them (the BJP) and us (the Congress). I promise our government will be of the poor, farmers and the youth."
After Bhatia, Gandhi reached Nandana village, where he addressed school children.
"Our country has made huge progress in the last 70 years. When we got independence, we did not have many good schools, big universities or companies. Whatever exists today is because of the hard work of your parents as well as grandparents," he said.
Gandhi was accompanied by Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and AICC general secretary in-charge of the state Ashok Gehlot.
Tomorrow, he will visit towns such as Dhrol and Tankara by road before reaching Rajkot. Gandhi is also scheduled to meet local milk producers and leaders of the cooperative movement.
Party sources said Gandhi will campaign in the north, central and south Gujarat later as part of the campaign ahead of the Assembly elections to be held later this year.