Rahul Gandhi, addressing fishermen during his visit to Puducherry today, called them "farmers of the sea" and talked about the need for a separate ministry for fisheries. Except there already is one, Union Fisheries Minister Giriraj Singh and several other BJP leaders pointed out.
The Congress leader was discussing the farmer protests near Delhi when he made the remarks.
"You must be wondering why I am talking about farmers at a meeting of fishermen. I consider you as farmers of the sea," Rahul Gandhi said in English, and paused for the translator to convey it to a cheering crowd.
"I think to myself, if farmers of the land have a ministry in Delhi then why can't farmers of the sea have a ministry in Delhi? When we have an issue of farmers we go to the ministry that belongs to the farmers. We go to the Agricultural Minister, but when fishermen have an issue, they do not have a minister to go to. And so I think an important thing we have to do for fishermen is we have to give them a ministry in the central government, so their issues can be raised and their pain can be taken care of," said the Congress MP.
While the comment drew applause from the crowd, it was not long before Rahul Gandhi was fact-checked by BJP leaders, especially the Minister for Fisheries, who even tweeted in Italian a comment roughly translated as: "Dear Raul, there is no separate Ministry of Fisheries in Italy. It comes under the Ministry of Agricultural and Forestry Policies."
"I'm astonished to know that a party's leader is unaware of a separate ministry formed for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairy by PM (Prime Minister Narendra Modi) in 2019 and I took oath as its minister. Work is underway in Puducherry and in other parts for the first time," Giriraj Singh told reporters.
"I'm saddened to see that Rahul Gandhi can't come out of Italy. He's trying to misguide farmers across the country. He is defaming our country in the world," he sneered.
Union Minister Kiren Rijiju was among those who criticised the Congress leader on Twitter.
This is beyond my comprehension! Rahul Gandhi is demanding for a separate Ministry for Fisheries whereas hon'ble PM @narendramodi Ji has already created the Ministry for Fisheries in 2019 itself! https://t.co/8BPgkQvSk1— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) February 17, 2021
Mr Gandhi's visit to Puducherry to launch the party's campaign for the state election due by May comes amid turmoil, with the Congress government on the verge of collapse after four resignations. The BJP claims many more Congress leaders are ready to cross over, though Chief Minister V Narayanasamy has denied that his government is in a minority.