(Eds: Adds quotes) Kollam (Ker), Feb 24 (PTI) Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday turned seafarerand pulled the net with local fisherman in high sea here to get a taste of their life and understand the issues facing them.
In an emotional talk with thousands of fisherfolk, including women gathered at the Thangassery beach in this southern coastal district, the Nehru scion said he admired and respected what the fishermen do.
'I understand and respect what you do. I admire what you are doing. Many times, we eat the fish but we will not understand the hard workbehind and how it reachedour plate,' Gandhi said.
Earlier, the Wayanad MP ventured into sea with some fishermen in their boat fromVadi beach here by 4.30 am and spent nearly an hour with them before reaching the venue of interaction.
The Wayanad MP also cast the net with them but could only catch one squid.
Clad in blue t-shirt and khaki trousers, the Congress leader could be seen waving hands to the onlookers from the boat while reaching back to the shores.
Addressing the fishermen as 'brothers' throughout his talk, he said he wanted to get a sense of what many of them go through every day.
'I went to sea early in the morning with my brothers.
From the moment the boat left the shore and till the moment it reached back the shore, every force was trying to fight my brothers,' he said.
Sharing his experience of sailing with the fishermen, Gandhi said they take the entire risk.
'They put their entire labour and fight the sea. They buy the net and somebody else gets the profit,' he said.
They threw the net and pulled it back out and there was one squid in it, he said.
'So the whole investment that was put into the boat, into the journey, the petrol within one minute, we saw there was no return.
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,' Gandhi added.
Highlighting hardships of fishermen, he said petrol and diesel prices go up every single day and the fishing community cannot buy an engine beyond a certain size.
He said the fishermen told him that if they come one hour late, they don't get the same price they would get if they came one hour before.
They also told him that they did not have any insurance.
'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.
Of course I will never understand exactly your reality. I only pulled the net for one day. You do it everyday,' 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 amidst thunderous applause.
Noting that he wanted to work with them to make their life easier, he also 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.
'Before I left the boat I asked the fishermen what their children do. They said their children do not want to be fishermen. Because it is too difficult and risky,' Gandhi added.
AICC general secretary K C Venugopal and T N Prathapan M P, also chairman of National Fishermen Congress, also accompanied him during his sea journey.
Gandhi further said he would strive to have a separate ministry for fisheries at the Centre.
'So that the issues of fishing community can be defended and protected,' he said adding that the UDF leaders in the state would soon hold discussions with the fisherfolk to prepare a separate manifesto for them during the impending assembly polls.
Taking a dig at the LDF government apparently over the ongoing controversy related to the alleged deep sea fishing contract, the Congress leader said he would like to see what they were going to do with the trawlers.
'I am for competition...but not for unfair competition.
So, there should be a level playing filed for everyone,' he added.
Gandhi's interaction with the fishermen assumes significance as the Congress-led UDF has raised allegations against the Left government in the state over an alleged deep sea fishing contract with a US-based company.
In the wake of the controversy, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had directed the officials concerned to cancel the MoU between EMCC, the US-based firm and Kerala State Inland Navigation Corporation (KSINC), a public sector undertaking and probe the circumstances under which it was signed. PTI LGK ROH ROH