New Delhi: With the fate of the land acquisition bill hanging in balance, the Modi government has taken its fight outside the Parliament, even as it tries to get the numbers to support it in the Rajya Sabha.
Prime minister Narendra Modi is understood to be keen on the government politically countering the Opposition’s campaign that the bill is anti-farmer. He wants the government and the BJP to counter this message, particularly in the Hindi heartland, sources said.
Union minister Nitin Gadkari, who was fielded on Thursday to allay apprehensions of farmers on the bill, has shot off letters to Opposition leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, and activist Anna Hazare defending the bill and inviting them to an open debate on it.
Till evening, however, the Congress maintained that Gandhi was yet to receive the letter. Gandhi, who had written to Hazare on Tuesday saying that the bill was not in the interest of farmers, is going to Rajasthan on March 20 and Haryana on March 29 to take her fight to the people.
Based on reports on Gadkari’s letter, the Congress asked the government and the minister six questions, including why rural development minister Birendra Singh was silent on the issue.
Refuting the Opposition’s allegations, Gadkari addressed a “samiksha adhiveshan” organised by the All India Panchayat Parishad, an elected body now controlled by the RSS, the BJP’s ideological mentor. The RSS wants the Parishad to lobby for the bill, sources said. Realising that Opposition parties had made the bill a political weapon against the BJP, the government is likely to focus on first fighting the “battle of perception”, sources said.
“Don’t you want better schools, better roads, better hospitals?” Gadkari asked speaking at the conclave in Hindi. He said a perception was being created that the bill was anti-farmer for vote bank politics. Gadkari also faced some questions, including if the compensation would depend on the circle rate or the market rate.
Gadkari also tried to turn the tables on the Congress, which earlier this week marched to Rashtrapati Bhavan against the bill, asking what steps it had taken in 55 years when it was in power to develop rural infrastructure. He insisted that the government was pro-farmer and had focused on rehabilitation and resettlement.
However, the government’s argument has failed to convince the Opposition. “Will PM Modi and shri Nitin Gadkari answer as to why they used the tyranny of majority in Lok Sabha to forcibly pass the land acquisition ordinance despite nationwide protests and public outrage?” the Congress said.
Sources said the government was moving step by step on its strategy in the House. With political parties, including some of BJP’s allies reluctant to be seen supporting the bill, the government may find it difficult to get the required numbers in the Rajya Sabha, where it is in a minority. For the ordinance, which lapses on April 5, to be repromulgated, Parliament will have to be prorogued. The first phase of the budget session ends on March 20. The bill has been passed in Lok Sabha with 11 amendments.