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Why #ZameenWapsi could well lead to #CongressWapsi

Shehzad Poonawalla |

Updated: April 18, 2015, 5:34 PM IST
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Why #ZameenWapsi could well lead to #CongressWapsi
The #ZameenWapsi program, has seen yet another development which Congress supporters would be thrilled about.

After the 16th of May 2014, the BJP with its massive tally of 282 seats, have been betraying a sense of confidence, sometimes even trespassing the fine line that separates confidence from arrogance. Even the drubbing received in the Delhi elections, hadn't dented their spirit. But lately it seems, all that has begun to change. A growing sense of insecurity is palpable. The movement against the Land acquisition ordinance promulgated by the Modi government, aptly titled #ZameenWapsi, a clever play of words on Sangh Parivar's communal agenda of #GharWapsi, which shot into prominence with the illegal re-conversions of Muslims to Hinduism in Agra by the Bajrang Dal, seems to have united the opposition inside and outside Parliament. More importantly, if I am allowed to use a cliched pun, the first beneficiaries of #Zameenwapsi (return of farmer's land movement) seem to be the Congress party, which has begun to regain and reclaim lost ground!

Even as Congress gained the leadership space amongst opposition parties with its president leading a joint-march to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Congress vice president, who had been away on a sabbatical, has been working behind the scenes to organize a massive show-down in the national capital on the 19th of April at the Ramlila maidan. Holding massive protests across India against the BJP's land law, the Youth Congress, seems to have galvanized into a fighting unit too. Its president, MLA Arminder Singh Raja Brar, who along with senior leaders had held demonstrations at Jantar Mantar in March, was at the receiving end of a brutal police lathi charge!

The #ZameenWapsi program, has seen yet another development which Congress supporters would be thrilled about. Digvijaya Singh,a close aide of Rahul Gandhi, who has been tasked with the responsibility of organizing the massive event, has been working in close coordination with Ahmad Patel, Jairam Ramesh and various national and state level leaders. For the past few days, many in the media had been speculating about the incompatibility between Sonia's old guard and Rahul's new guard. The co-ordination between leaders, young and old, as far as this program is concerned, seems to suggest that these theories could well be an over-exaggeration and that the party can unite under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi, just as it did under Sonia's.

Most importantly, the #ZameenWapsi movement is gaining huge traction amongst farmers. If reports are to be believed there is an increase of 40% in the number of land conflicts and 80% in farm suicides in Beed and Marathwada. Western UP, a prosperous farm belt, is also reporting farmer suicides lately. With agricultural prices collapsing globally and the unseasonal rains leaving the rabi crops in north west India severely damaged, a major farm crisis is brewing. The ridiculously low compensation cheques handed out in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana, have added insult to injury. And what seems to have pushed the farmers into agitational mode now, is the ordinance brought in by the Modi government. The dismal turn out of just 500 people, in the Dwarka Kisaan rally organized by the BJP, to highlight the positives in the amendments made by the BJP government, which was addressed by Union minister Nitin Gadkari recently, is testimony that there are few takers of the BJP's 'Mann ki baat' on this issue.

A quick glance of the comparison between the old British law -The Land Acquisition Act 1894 Versus the law brought in by the UPA which was backed by the NDA in 2013 namely The Right To Fair Compensation And Transparency In Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation And Resettlement Act 2013 and BJP's Ordinance Of 2015, will throw some light on the concerns of the farmers.

1. Consent

In 1894 Act: No consent of any kind required. All acquisitions were forced.

In 2013 Act: Mandatory Consent of 70-80% of affected families losing land where acquisition is for private companies or for Public Private Partnership Projects. No consent for genuine Government projects where no private player benefits from the acquisition. Additional consent of Gram Sabha required where the land belongs to Tribal Communities.

In 2015 Ordinance: No consent required for a broad set of categories. Existing consent requirements removed for industrial corridors, rural infrastructure etc.

2. Social Impact and Assessment

In 1894 Act: No such process.

In 2013 Act: Special pre-acquisition process which would ensure acquisition is genuine. Affected families would give consent based on this Report.

In 2015 Ordinance: Removed for a large number of categories.

3. Rehabilitation and Resettlement

In 1894 Act: No requirement to carry out R&R at all.

In 2013 Act: Detailed R&R requirements which include land for land, jobs, houses and monthly payments to the affected families.

In 2015 Ordinance: No changes to R&R clauses.

4. Return of Land

In 1894 Act: No return of land even if land not utilised.

In 2013 Act: Special retrospective clause to return unutilised land if affected individual has not accepted compensation or has not handed over physical possession to the Government. Also mandatory return of land in five years if land not used, to either original owner or the state land bank.

In 2015 Ordinance: Conditions for return of land made very narrow and limited. If a family is fighting a case over the acquisition in court that period will not be included thereby disqualifying them from the requirement. Mandatory return extended from five years to discretion of acquirer.

5. Penalties for Officers

In 1894 Act: None.

In 2013 Act: Direct prosecution of officers if they violate the law.

In 2015 Ordinance: Special Protection given to officers against prosecution even if they violate the law.

6. Urgency Clause

In 1894 Act: A much abused clause which allowed Government to acquire land in any case by calling it an emergency.

In 2013 Act: Limited only to acquisition for defence and natural calamities.

In 2015 Ordinance: Unchanged.

Perhaps, the BJP itself realizes that if the Congress does manage to resolve all its issues on leadership and taps into the public mood on an issue such as #ZameenWapsi it may prove to be an uphill task for them to win the forthcoming Bihar elections, especially after the remaining opposition seems to have also united under the banner of the Janta Parivar. Hence, their attack has been sharply focused on Rahul Gandhi, with some of their spokesperson's even calling him an 'item number', a term which comes off as most uncharitable and unparliamentary. But this could well be Rahul's 'Goongi Gudiya' moment. It was after a vitriolic personal attack, that Indira Gandhi had emerged and asserted herself as one of the strongest leaders India ever had. #ZameenWapsi could well be the beginning of a much awaited #CongressWapsi!

(DISCLAIMER - The views expressed in the article are the author's personal opinion and not that of CNN-IBN/IBNLIVE)

First Published: April 18, 2015, 5:34 PM IST
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