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Poisonous political logjam over land bill

Poisonous political logjam over land bill
The clumsily designated Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill has become a victim of cynicism and <g data-gr-id="58">ineptitude,</g> since it was first brought forward for debate. To begin with, resolutions surrounding the land acquisition bill are related to the absence of an uncluttered vision among politicians about the best way to achieve the double objective of protecting farmers’ interests, while advancing the cause of industrialisation.

In a hasty manoeuvre to negate the provisions of the 1894 land acquisition law, our politicians have seemingly lost a sense of balance and tilted rather too heavily in favour of the cultivators. Among those who noted the initial imbalance was Anand Sharma, the commerce minister in the previous Manmohan <g data-gr-id="55">Singh led</g> central government, who said that the “insistence on the consent of 80 percent of affected families will seriously delay land acquisition and in many cases halt essential infrastructure projects”.

As Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has pointed out, this objection echoes the Narendra Modi government’s views. However, the Congress has chosen to ignore what Sharma said two years ago because it runs counter to the party’s objective of throwing a spanner in Modi’s “Make in India” industrial endeavours.

The Congress is well aware that if the process of industrialisation does <g data-gr-id="66">takes</g> off, the party can then say goodbye to any immediate chance of returning to power. Hence, the aggressiveness with which the party’s vice president, Rahul Gandhi, has been opposing the proposed amendments to dilute the provisions on securing the consent of farmers, and declaring that he will not allow an inch of land to be acquired by the government or industrialists.

The Congress’ crown prince, however, does not seem to care that stalling industrialisation will hurt the country in the long run. Under a process, where industrialisation stalls, a large number of farmers will be unable to make the transition from farms to factories, besides proving to be detrimental to overall development by scuppering infrastructural projects.

But it will not do to blame the cynicism of the Congress alone. As Modi once pointed out, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MPs supported the land bill in 2013, they desisted from taking a long-term view of industrial growth presumably because such a stance would have enabled the BJP’s opponents to accuse it of being pro-corporate, as Rahul Gandhi is doing today by alleging that the Modi government is a “suit-boot ki sarkar”.

This one-sidedness has long been a feature of Indian politics - and also of popular culture reflected in fiction and films - which propagates that the rich are evil, while the poor are the repositories of all that is good in human beings. In this respect, B.R. Ambedkar was in a league of his own when he described villages as “a den of ignorance, narrow-mindedness and communalism”, echoing Karl Marx’s condemnation of the “idiocy of rural life”.

If the BJP is now taking a stand which is diametrically opposite to what it did in 2013, the reason is that the responsibility of governance has made it realise that employment generation via industrialisation and economic reforms is the best way to lift millions out of poverty.

The Manmohan Singh government, too, had pursued this path, thereby leading to poverty reduction between the years 2005-06 and 2011-12 because of “fast GDP growth”, as Arvind Subramanian, the present government’s chief economic adviser, had said.

But any progress on these lines does not suit the opportunism of Rahul Gandhi and the Congress, including Anand Sharma and hence their opposition to reducing the percentage of farmers, who must agree to relinquish control over their lands from 80 percent at present.

This outlook is not only a major hindrance to the acquisition of land by the industrialists, but also condemns cultivators to remain confined to their increasingly unproductive and sub-divided plots as the land is parceled out among succeeding generations.

Although the charges about being anti-industry have recently persuaded Rahul Gandhi to say that he is not anti-big business, the no-longer-young heir apparent has never said a word about his larger economic vision.

On the other hand, the BJP’s attempt to wriggle out of the logjam created by opponents of the proposed amendments by calling upon States to frame their own laws offers no solution. Since land is in the concurrent list of the constitution, the States will be unable to draft a law which goes against the Central legislation. For instance, the 80 percent stipulation cannot be tampered with, nor the directive about assessing the social impact of the acquisition.

The BJP’s hope, therefore, that the need to attract investors will persuade the states to prepare industry-friendly laws is unlikely to be fulfilled. Besides, some states like West Bengal will rather shoot themselves in the foot by shunning investment rather than be seen cozying up to the corporate sector.

However, even as parties like the Congress, which is leading the charge against the land law, continue to pose as the champions of the underprivileged, they may ponder over why they were defeated in last year’s general election despite enacting supposedly pro-poor laws like the one on 
land and the other on providing subsidised food grain. IANS

(Amulya Ganguli is a political analyst. The views expressed are personal.)
Amulya Ganguli

Amulya Ganguli

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