India’s Rahul Gandhi was briefly detained after visiting the site of deadly clashes between protesting farmers and police over the building of a motorway connecting the national capital with Agra, home to the Taj Mahal.
Gandhi, 40, was arrested last night as part of “preventive measures” to stop him leading a rally today in villages around Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, said Rajeev Malhotra, a spokesman for police in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Gandhi, a scion of three Indian prime ministers, had slipped into the area on the back of a motorbike and was released early this morning, Malhotra said.
Two policemen and two farmers were killed over the weekend as villagers demanded greater compensation for land earmarked for a six-lane expressway. The state government says the road will promote economic development and cut about two hours off the current 5-hour trip between the two cities.
Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state which sends 80 lawmakers to the federal parliament, will be targeted by Gandhi’s Congress party in the run up to state elections to be held next year. It is run by Mayawati, whose Bahujan Samaj Party draws support mainly from those on the lower rungs of the country’s traditional caste system. Mayawati has supported the federal government led by Congress without formally joining the coalition.
Gandhi’s great grandfather Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first prime minister, spent years in jail protesting British rule before the country gained its freedom in 1947.
Three of Gandhi’s ancestors -- Nehru, Indira Gandhi and his father Rajiv Gandhi -- have ruled India as prime minister for 38 of the country’s 64 years. His mother Sonia is the president of the ruling Congress and named the 9th most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine last year.
Rahul Gandhi is tipped by parts of India’s media and political analysts to become prime minister if Congress wins the next general election scheduled for early 2014. Gandhi, who was elected to parliament’s lower house in 2004, has focused on developing the youth wing of the party.
Conflict between farmers and companies trying to secure land for industrial projects has hampered India’s plans to expand its network of highways and attract overseas investment. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 78, is trying to replace century- old laws used to purchase land for the state in a bid to reduce disputes.
Congress will hold protests today in Uttar Pradesh against the state’s acquisition of land. “Our fight against the government will continue,” Digvijay Singh, a Congress leader said. “We will be happy to go to jail on farmers’ issues.”
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