The anti-BJP platform has been a strong unifying factor for parties opposed to the BJP. Battered in the general elections, they have been in perpetual disarray.
Most were also opposed to the Congress, which in ten years of its regime was riddled with scams, scandals and a poor administration. The high octane combination of inflation, huge budget deficits, steep fall in economic growth, stagnant exports, humongous trade deficits, falling investments and lack of job growth was lethal. Added to that was the spirited campaign by the BJP leading to a humiliating defeat for the Congress. The fate of several other parties, notably Left parties, was no different.
There have been dramatic improvements in the state of the economy with sharp decline in inflation, thanks to the steep fall in crude prices. Yet the lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha has come in the way of the BJP surging ahead with reforms.
Opposition parties in need of a strong issue to oppose, found this in the Land Acquisition Bill. The Congress, which passed the bill with BJP support in 2013, took serious exception to the few amendments incorporated in that bill. The major issue related to acquisition without consent of the affected landowners for specific social purposes like construction of schools, hospitals and land in the proximity of the industrial corridor.
The delayed old bill had clauses that stalled vital projects taking off. Odisha provides several instances of large steel plants involving thousands of crores of rupees of investments getting stuck. The 12 million tonne Posco Steel, involving an outlay of over Rs 50,000 crore is a typical example. Another was Tata Steel’s titanium project at Tuticorin in Tamil Nadu that involved an outlay of Rs 3000 crore. Finance Ministers P Chidambaram in the UPA II and Arun Jaitley in NDA II have pointed to over Rs 700,000 crore worth of projects getting stuck for such clearances and several of these are due to delays in acquisition of land.
The involvement of farmers in large numbers makes this an ideal issue for political battle. The new six-party Janata Parivar and the Communist Party (Marxist) under the new General Secretary Sitaram Yechury find the land acquisition issue a strong rallying point. The Congress, in disarray with the numbers reduced to over a third in the current Lok Sabha compared to the previous one and with dynasty leadership under strain, has seized this issue with vigour.
Thus, for over a month, the land acquisition issue is hogging headlines. Parties in opposition would endeavour to block the passage of the bill in the Rajya Sabha where the BJP doesn’t have the numbers. BJP would attempt to scrape through. If this fails, it may convene a joint session of the Parliament and get the bill passed.
The battle lines are clear. The passage of the bill has assumed great significance for the BJP’s reform agenda. It will strain its utmost to win this battle.
IE has been supporting the bill and has been pointing to the low productivity of the fragmented land that needs to be agglomerated to facilitate the application of science, technology and management. More production from less land is the first major step to revive the rural economy. The facility to acquire land for development purpose would lend this prosperity to rural Indians and also arrest the present mindless migration to cities.