In the biggest climb down of his 16-month-old government, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday gave up on the controversial land acquisition bill and said his government would not re-promulgate the ordinance which lapses on Monday.
In the midst of a stalemate in parliament over passage of the land bill, the Modi government issued the Ordinance thrice to do away with clauses that made consent of the landowner mandatory for land acquisition. The social and environment impact assessment clause for the land acquisition was also removed in the ordinance.
Modi tried to give the impression that he “surrendered” to allay the fears of the farmers, but the facts remains that his government was badly isolated on the issue with not even the allies of the BJP ready to back the proposed amendments.
“There are many rumors being spread about Land Acquisition Bill, farmers have been scared. We do not want that. I have said it earlier also. The government has an open mind on the Land Acquisition Bill, about which there is a lot of controversy. I have said it again and again that I am ready to accept any suggestion for the benefit of farmers…”
“We had promulgated an Ordinance on Land Acquisition Bill which will expire tomorrow ( Monday). I have decided that it should be allowed to expire. It means restoration of the situation that prevailed before my government took over.”
– Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his monthly radio address `Mann Ki Baat’.
The climb down gave the Opposition an opportunity to attack Modi. In Patna, addressing a mega election rally Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar as well RJD chief Lalu Prasad described Modi as an anti –farmer leader who has been forced to withdraw the land ordinance because of massive groundswell of protest at every level.
“Modi had to eat his words on land bill. It is victory of the people and defeat of his arrogance,” said Nitish.
With the Opposition closing its ranks and not giving any space to the Government to make any forward movement on the land bill, the same regime which till a couple of months ago claimed it would go with the amendment “come what may”, made a sheepish retreat, raising serious question marks over the Government ability to carry the opposition together in pushing forward the reform agenda.
The writing was on the wall when several affiliates of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh joined the opposition in criticizing the bill, which was also slammed by the BJP allies like the Shiv Sena, Akali Dal and Lok Janshakti Party. Before suggesting several controversial amendments to the bill which the BJP had backed two years ago and had also taken credit for it, the government held no consultation either with representatives of the farmers or the political parties. When the controversy erupted, the BJP belatedly tried to reach out to the main stakeholders, but by then it was too late.
The message is clear for the Modi government. Despite enjoying a brutal majority in parliament, it must be more sensitive to the concern of the masses and try to carry together the opposition parties as a partner in progress of the country. It can’t hope to achieve anything by giving the slogans of “Congress mukt bharat”, which sounds “fanatical” in a democratic country (despite congress track record of corruption and mis-governance) and create a bitter atmosphere of distrust between the government and Opposition.
The climbs down has affected Modi’s image as a powerful leader who would enter into no compromise on issues that he thought were crucial for the interest of nation. In the end what mattered was politics and the perception that his government was being seen as anti –poor and anti-farmer. While Modi may tried to show he was a true democrat who has respected the voice of the nation, but it would raise question about his understanding of the real aspiration of the nation—after all how could he go so horribly wrong in grasping the ramification of a bill that could pit the entire farmer community and political opponent against his government.