Rahul Gandhi pulls the net.
Ashraf Padanna, Correspondent
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi ventured into the sea off Kerala coasts along with fishermen on a country boat on Wednesday and returned with little catch but huge political mileage for his party ahead of elections.
The fisher community in the state are agitated at the state government’s aborted move to promote deep-sea trawling for exports along their coasts which they fear would deplete the fish wealth. Clad in a blue T-shirt and khaki trousers, he spent more than an hour with the fishermen at sea, cast the net with them, took a plunge into the water and ate the fish they caught and cooked on board.
Interacting with the local fishing community on the beach at Thankassery in Kollam district later, he said he always wanted to experience what they were going through every day.
“Over the years, I had constantly been told how difficult it is to be a fisherman and I’ve always been interested in seeing these things by my own eyes,” he said.
“From the moment the boat left the shore to the moment it came back, every single force was trying to fight with my brothers.”
“They buy nets, put in their labour and take every risk and somebody else gets the profit,” he added, attacking policies of both federal and state governments.
The fishermen who accompanied them, including lawmaker TN Prathapan, who belongs to a traditional fishing family, said he was enthusiastic throughout the journey.
“He asked me why they were jumping into the sea. I told him they wanted to secure the fish they had already netted,” said Biju Lawrence, the boat owner.
“Then he said he was also joining them and removed his shirt. He swam in the sea and he was enjoying it. Later he helped them to pull the net back into the boat.”
“He sat with us and shared the food showing no qualms. He spoke many things and enquired about our families,” he continued.
“We got only one squid in the net and he was a bit disappointed as the catch was too little.”
Gandhi, who kicked off his party’s election campaign in Kerala with a huge rally here on Tuesday, returned to Delhi after the interactive session with the fishers.
Earlier, the former Congress president who represents Kerala’s hilly Wayanad in the parliament had a similar interaction with students and tribespeople in his constituency.
He however chose not to react to the raging controversy over his praise for the way people of Kerala are doing politics and he felt refreshing in the state unlike in the north.
He tweeted part of his speech in which he said, “I fight the ideology of RSS every day. And every step I take, I’m telling you every step I take, the BJP attacks me.”
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh or RSS is the ideological mentor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
For the statement, he had come under attack from several BJP leaders, including its president JP Nadda and foreign minister S Jayasankar whose roots are in south India.
“I admire what you are doing. Many times, we eat the fish but we will not understand the hard work behind and how it reached our plate,” the Nehru-Gandhi scion said.
“In my mind, I was expecting a net full of fish and the net came back empty. So I saw with my own eyes, your experience.”
The fishermen asked him to abolish the five per cent cut the state government takes on the sale of fish they catch and he promised to include that in the manifesto.
He said petrol and diesel prices go up every single day and the fishing community cannot buy an engine beyond a certain size.
“I have a sense of what you deal with. And now, when a fisherman comes to me to tell that they are struggling, I understand a little bit what they are going through,” he said.
“Of course I will never understand exactly your reality. I only pulled the net for one day. You do it every day,” Gandhi told the gathering.
“They cooked some fish on the boat. For the first time, I realised directly with my own eyes the difficulty to get the fish on the plate.”
He said he might not be able to resolve all their problems but he can certainly work with them and resolve as many as he can.
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