Target in Focus

Anna is back with a bang. Three years ago his crusade against corruption in high places motivated a large number of middle class people. Support was so spontaneous across the country that even the sceptics on the left began to think that he might be another Jayprakash to make India a better place for democrats and law-abiding liberals. No, the movement fizzled out and lost its momentum after the initial euphoria because of internal contradictions it faced right from the beginning. Party-less democracy as symbolised by Anna Hazare, the self-styled Gandhian without any Gandhian economic outlook, failed to attract attention even of small political parties, not to speak of so-called mainstream parties. This time Anna’s two-day sit-in demonstration was somewhat specific and limited as well—it targeted the notorious Land Ordinance. In a sense, it is the affirmation that the very being a farmer in India is inferior, they can be taken for granted. But Hazare’s movement faced a road-block even before it made headlines. Modi’s party—Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)—lost no time to counter Hazare’s campaign against Land Ordinance by mobilising its own farmers’ outfits with dubious credibility.

Land Acquisition Ordinance is a draconian piece of legislation that is basically designed to curb the interests of the farming community and all dependent on land for their livelihood. The controversial amendment made in the Land Acquisition Act 2013 by the Modi government is aimed at catering financial interests of corporate houses, mining industry, land mafia and real estate agents. No doubt Modi’s public relations officers want to send message to multinational companies that they are very much with them and there won’t be any problem in forcible acquisition of land for any purpose. The saffron camp is jubilant that Modi’s ‘Make in India’ slogan will get a new boost to the growth mania if they get the Land Bill passed in the current budget session of parliament. But this ‘Make in India’ policy is actually turning India into a big sub-contracting workshop at the expense of peasants.

Not that the Land Act 2013 enacted by the previous Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government was progressive enough to protect farmers’ rights. But there were some safe-guards which the Congress was forced to incorporate after prolonged farmers’ agitation, though disunited and sporadic, throughout the country. Now the Modi government has removed them by diluting the ‘consent’ and ‘social impact’ clauses in the Ordinance to woo investors, both foreign and domestic.

Anna Hazare’s tokenism apart, Modi also faced flak from his own allies in the National Democratic Alliance over the controversial Land Bill that was out and out anti-people and anti-national.

But the opposition to the Land Bill by BJP’s allies, particularly Shiv Sena, is skin-deep. It is more like a bargaining ploy as they want more ministerial berths in the cabinet. They didn’t raise their voice of dissent when the Ordinance was promulgated. And BJP’s Bihar ally—Ramvilas Paswan’s Lok Janashakti Party (LJP)—is now talking sense and non-sense, when the government, troubled with inadequate number of members in the upper house, chose the Ordinance Route, to destroy rural economy and peasant lives as well. Maybe, assembly poll in Bihar is not far away, so they are over-sensitive today. Even Akali Dal of Punjab, a staunch ally of BJP, finds it difficult to swallow Modi’s Land Bill. Besides the ‘consent’ and ‘social impact’ clauses they have reservations about the changes to Section 24 of the Act that narrows down the scope of the restrospective clause by reducing the number of beneficiaries.

As opposition to Land Bill is mounting despite Modi’s efforts to ‘blunt the myths’ on the land acquisition which the Opposition has called ‘anti farmer’, the government seems to be toying with the idea of convening an all-party meet to pacify the aggrieved. This way or that they have no option but to reconsider the Bill.

It’s sheer hypocrisy that they say they would like to make the Bill ‘pro-poor’ and ‘farmer friendly’. They express their pro-poor attitudes, even by blocking the option of a disgruntled farmer approaching the court for redressal as the new Bill requires permission from the government for such a move. What a nice way to guarantee democratic rights in the biggest show-piece of democracy!

For one thing Hazare has realised the ‘futility’ of hunger strike. He is no longer going to fast unto death for any issue—land issue or corruption issue. He at 77 is pragmatic enough not to die for heroism! His programme of action over the next four months would be mass awareness campaign on the intricacies of the Land Bill. Left parties and some regional outfits supported Hazare’s initiative, only to expose their own limitations and bankruptcy as if they cannot address the land question in the changed context on their own. Traditional left parties are quickly losing their relevance even in the area of peasant question which was once their powerful weapon to mobilise rural masses in their millions. They just react to spontaneity. Today it is Hazare, tomorrow it might be someone else. The left cannot mobilise peasants on the slogan of ‘land to the tiller’ any more. It is now the question of protecting the land that peasants till. In the final analysis this Land Bill even in its amended form as suggested by the Opposition is evil because its ultimate logic is destruction. However unpleasant it is the left must honestly see and admit that the Land Bill even after Opposition-prescribed amendment is still heavily biased in favour of industrialists, not farmers.

Vol. 47, No. 35, Mar 8 - 14, 2015