Maintaining Modi Momentum

Two days before the New Year, the Union Cabinet of Modi cleared yet another Ordinance to ease land acquisition rules much to the disadvantage of poor and marginalised peasants. In January 2014, a revised form of the Land Acquisition Act of 1894 was passed by the Parliament. The struggles of Singur, Nandigram, Kalinganagar and other places were the motive force compelling this new legislation. Although not wholly satisfactory, it was better than its old predecessor. The new act made it obligatory to acquire the consent of 80 percent of potential land-losers whose land was to be acquired for a private project. For a project under private-public proprietorship, this was to be 70 percent. Besides, there was the provision of compensation not only for land losers, but also for those dependent on this land. In other words sharecroppers and agricultural labourers working on agricultural land taken over for industry were also to be compensated and rehabilitated. The most obnoxious part of the proposed Ordinance is to lower the limit of consenting farmers to 50 percent both for private and for PPP projects. Another part, not less important, is to exclude those dependent on land, barring the landowners, from the provision of rehabilitation and compensation.

The amended law of January 2014 did not really satisfy the large corporate sector, which wanted to acquire land as easily and cheaply as possible. The corporate captains demand that provision of all the goods and services, including health and education, be left to the market, i.e. private hands, and the state should have no independent participation. On the other hand, they hypocritically argue that the state should come forward, if necessary by using the armed power of the state, to acquire land and other resources for them. Before the last Lok Sabha polls, the corporate sector rallied itself behind Narendra Modi and allegedly spent hundreds of thousands of rupees for his campaign in the hope that he will provide them with all the possible opportunities of exploiting the land and other resources of the country. After Modi's ascent to power in New Delhi, all the corporate organisations were pressing for a change of the existing legislation regarding acquisition of land. Their argument was that without such a change, there will be no industrilisation and hence no development. Modi, not being an ungrateful person, is now going to oblige them. Quite expectedly the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), the all powerful organ of Corporate India, welcomed the Land Acquisition Ordinance. They say it will kick-start a large number of stalled projects. Not that 20 lakh crore investments are stuck because of the new land act of 2014, since the law has been in existance barely for one year.

It is clear that in case of agricultural land, implementation of the proposed Ordinance will directly hurt the entitlements of tenant farmers, who take land from owners on the basis of fixed rent, sharecroppers and agricultural labourers. Absentee landowners and one section of owner-cultivators may part with their land if they find the compensation package sufficiently attractive. But there is scarcely any owner-cultivator cultivating his land without engaging any labourer. If he is compensated, but his labourers are not, there is bound to be resistance. In West Bengal, there are bargadars (share croppers), registered and unregistered, other types of sharecroppers, usually called Kishens and large numbers of agricultural labourers. If they are excluded from the compensation scheme, they will not certainly take this inhuman step lying down.

In short, the new Ordinance is another manifestation of Narendra Modi's design to sell the economy to domestic and foreign corporations at astronomically low prices. Modi and his corporate mentors know that this will not carry conviction with the people except those dehumanised sections of the society who think that their interests will be well served under corporate hegemony. In that case, Modi's rule will be endangered and applying the repressive arms of the state will not at all be enough to protect his upwieldy empire. So, he has to strengthen himself by selling the opium of Hindutva, trying to blame the religious minorities and the dalits for all the miseries that may befall the people. And it will be best for him if he can successfully prod the dalits and the religious minorities to fight each other. The post-Godhra state-sponsored genocide in Gujarat in 2002 may have encouraged him in this regard. But the fact is that when the proposed Ordinance begins to be implemented, its victims will include adivasis, dalits and Muslims. Crisis of life and livelihood will force them to come together.

This government is completely anti-poor and is only interested in pushing forward the corporate agenda. Modi's 'reforms' bulldozer is likely to flatten the good earth of India, allowing foreign and domestic investors to loot natural resources, all in the name of development. The Modis are all set to turn the symbols of life into the symbols of death.

This is probably the begining of the end of the Modi magic, because as Indian history has shown no regime can last only by means of coercion.

Vol. 47, No. 27, Jan 11 - 17, 2015