BJP in a corner over land law: Allies Akali Dal, Sena join opposition

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New Delhi: NDA partners Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal (Badal) and Swabhimani Paksha joined the chorus Tuesday against the land acquisition ordinance, and the government, under attack inside and outside Parliament, said it was ready to convene an all-party meeting to evolve a consensus on the issue.

 

The Shiv Sena skipped an NDA meeting in the evening and party chief Uddhav Thackeray issued a statement saying they would not support “any decision which throttles the farmers”.

 

“The Shiv Sena will not back any Central government decision that is anti-farmer. The Central government should remember that farmers had elected it with great hope,” Thackeray said.

 

The SAD (Badal) attended the meeting but conveyed to the BJP leadership its strong opposition to the “anti-farmer” changes in the land acquisition law.

 

“Yes, we have problems with the ordinance and we said so at the meeting. We hope the government will take corrective steps,” SAD (Badal) MP from Anandpur Sahib Prem Singh Chandumajra told The Indian Express.

 

Spelling out his party’s main concerns on the ordinance, Chandumajra said, “We have 3-4 main objections, which I said at the meeting today. The farmers are unhappy with the changes and I said the same at the meeting. A way will have to be found to ensure that there is no discrimination with the poor farmers in the name of development.”

 

Among the main issues red-flagged by the SAD is the clause in the ordinance that waters down the social impact assessment as well as the one dealing with consent. “We are also opposed to the changes to Section 24 of the Act that narrows down the scope of the retrospective clause by reducing the number of beneficiaries,” Chandumajra said.

 

As pressure mounted, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asked BJP MPs to “bust the myths” on the land acquisition legislation which the opposition has called “anti-farmer”.

 

But the worry showed. Party president Amit Shah formed an eight-member committee to seek suggestions from farmers on the proposed legislation for which the bill —- the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) Bill, 2015 —- was tabled in Lok Sabha amid noisy protests from the opposition while BJP members sat quietly.

 

Raju Shetti of Swabhimani Paksha, also an NDA partner, opposed the introduction of the bill in Lok Sabha. “I oppose the bill because good days will not follow for farmers once it is enacted. Instead, the bad days will be here. I warn the government that if this is passed, the farmer will never pardon this government.”

 

In Rajya Sabha, where the government move to withdraw three bills, including one on raising the FDI cap in the insurance sector to 49 per cent, was scuttled by the opposition, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the government was willing to convene an all-party meeting on the land acquisition issue. “I will convey this to the Prime Minister,” he said.

 

In Lok Sabha, where he countered opposition criticism, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said: “Our government gives top priority to the welfare of farmers. We are willing to discuss all points.”

 

Outside the House, Amit Shah announced the formation of a committee to hold discussions with farmers and organisations on the proposed legislation. Former minister Satyapal Malik will be its convenor. Others on the committee will be MPs Bhupender Yadav, Ram Narayan Dudi, Hukam Dev Narayan, Rakesh Singh, Sanjay Dhotre, Suresh Angadi and chartered accountant Gopal Agarwal.

 

Party leaders met on Monday and the BJP said the government will have an open mind on suggestions to make the legislation “pro-poor” and “farmer-friendly”. Home Minister Rajnath Singh, a party leader said, has so far met representatives of 27 organisations and more meetings are slated to get inputs.

 

At the meeting of the BJP parliamentary party Tuesday morning, Modi was said to have asked MPs to counter the “propaganda” of the opposition that the bill, in its present form, is “anti-farmer”. “The BJP can never take an anti-farmer stance,” Modi was quoted as having said.

 

After the meeting, Union Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy told reporters: “It was reiterated at the parliamentary party meeting that we are for the welfare of farmers and every step that this government will take will be for the welfare of farmers, for the welfare of the poor and the downtrodden.”

 

But the government found the going tough in Lok Sabha when the entire opposition protested, many rushing to the well, as Rural Development Minister Birender Singh introduced the bill. He secured leave of the House through a voice vote and the opposition, including the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Left parties, Samajwadi Party, AAP, RJD and INLD, staged a walk-out in protest. The BJD did not walk out immediately but left after flagging its two objections to the bill.

 

Congress floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge said the bill was “anti-farmer, in fact anti-people”. “Had the government consulted all parties instead of bringing in the ordinance, it would have been a different matter. But it wants to bulldoze its way,” he said.

 

Naidu rose to counter the criticism but Congress president Sonia Gandhi, rallying behind Kharge who was still speaking, said: “Let him speak”. Having had his say, Kharge announced a walk-out. SP leader Mulayam Singh Yadav stood there for a while before he too left the House.

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