An Indian state minister who heads the farmers' wing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party is under fire from the opposition for branding as "cowards" some farmers who committed suicide after unseasonal rains destroyed their crops.
Haryana Agriculture Minister OP Dhankar said that the farmers who were committing suicide were running away from their responsibilities and leaving their families and children with liabilities. He told media that the state government could not support those farmers.
Dozens of poor and debt-laden farmers have killed themselves in the past two months after heavy downpours flattened rice, wheat and potato crops.
Anger has also been mounting in rural areas over Modi's land reform bill, which the government says is needed to speed up economic growth but political opponents say favours big business at the expense of struggling farmers.
Tuesday's comments by Dhankar could further alienate those in the countryside, where the opposition Congress party is trying to broaden its appeal to voters.
In parliament on Wednesday, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi pulled up the government for the remarks, urging Modi to visit farms and acquaint himself with conditions there.
"The farmers are crying, they are in distress, but Dhankar says those who commit suicide are cowards," said Gandhi.
Dismissing the criticism against his “cowardly farmers” comment, Dhankar said, “Haryana is the land of brave people; suicides are not acceptable in the state.” But he added his government had given farmers every assistance.
Dhankar used to condemn the former government for not doing much for farmers which was leading to increasing suicides.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week urged all political parties to work together to help troubled farmers after one of them hanged himself at an Aam Aadmi Party rally in Delhi over proposed changes in the land acquisition law.