Ahead of Bihar polls, land bill on back burner as Modi reaches out to farmers

New Delhi, Amita Shah: In a setback to its reforms timetable, the Modi government will allow the land acquisition ordinance, dubbed as anti-farmer by the Opposition, to lapse on Monday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself announced that government would not re-promulgate the ordinance but will include compensation benefits for farmers in 13 more categories, which were exempted in 2013 Land Acquisition Act.

 PM Modi

In his ‘Mann ki baat’ address on Sunday morning, just hours before the NDA’s rivals–Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and RJD leader Lalu Prasad Yadav– held a joint rally in Patna, Modi pledged his government’s commitment to concerns of farmers. In an apparent bid to counter the Opposition charge that the government was anti-farmer, Modi said rumours were being spread about the land ordinance and that he was open to suggestions to amend the law to benefit farmers. “For us, Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan was not just a slogan, but a mantra,” he said.

With the high stake Bihar battle on the horizon, the government would rather wait for the report of Joint Parliamentary panel headed by BJP’s SS Ahluwalia on the bill, rather than risk political losses, according to sources. Besides, at the Niti Aayog meeting, it was recommended that land acquisition should be left to states, since the subject was on the Concurrent List of the Constitution. While the Opposition dubbed it as a step back under pressure from it, the ruling side described the decision not to repromulgate the ordinance for a third time as “political pragmatism”. Though the government has a comfortable majority in Lok Sabha, it is in a minority in the Upper House. With the entire Opposition against the bill, the government would have a thin majority to pass it in a joint session.

At the rally, Nitish Kumar said Modi “had to step back. This is the biggest victory for people.”

Refuting that the government had done a u-turn, BJP chief Amit Shah said the Prime Minister had thrown open the land acquisition issue for a debate. “The government had to step back because of a united opposition. The message that the government was anti-farmer and pro-corporate was not something it could have pulled through without political losses. Having a majority need not mean your political message is right,” said CPM plot bureau member Brinda Karat. The Modi government had taken the brazen it out approach on the land acquisition bill to send a clear message that it was determined to move ahead with its development agenda. The Prime Minister, according to sources, would prefer a central land acquisition law rather than leaving it to states which could lead to an imbalance in the country.

The RSS affiliates, including the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, had also expressed apprehensions about the contentious clauses of the bill. However, Prabhakar Kelkar of the BKS said leaving the law to states would mean depending on the discretion of government of the day.

Uncertainty also looms over the April timeline of the other crucial component of the government’s reform agenda– the GST bill. According to sources, “no concrete progress” has been made on calling a special session.

Govt’s stand on land ordinance ‘cruel joke’ on farmers: Yechury

The CPI(M) on Sunday hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi for deciding to allow the controversial land acquisition ordinance to lapse tomorrow, asking why the government promulgated the measure thrice earlier and termed it as a ‘cruel joke’ on farmers. “This is a cruel joke on the farmers. …. If the government is now allowing this ordinance to lapse, then why did they go for promulgating it thrice in an unprecedented manner,” CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said.

The decision to allow the land ordinance to lapse is “clearly a result of the popular people’s protests against this move by the government which forced Prime Minister Modi to succumb,” he told.