The decisive and epic verdict in West Bengal and the recent high-profile political drama in greater Noida shows that land grab mafia and the politics of opportunism only exemplify that controlled economic growth can only lead to more disparities and ominous unrest.
Land is truly the most contentious issue in India especially with rural folks and thus can be easily exploited for political gains.
Ask Mamata Banerjee to dispute this theory and she could go nuts!
Thus for Congress and Rahul Gandhi, on the face of it, the roadmap seems pretty good. The Congress, desperate to storm back to power on its own in 2014 Lok Sabha polls but still a ‘minor’ player in most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, hopes to tap into farmers' discontent, intensified by rising income inequalities between cities and villages and make Greater Noida – its gateway to power in Lucknow and as well as strengthen its grip in New Delhi.
Thus, more than the concern for sobbing and anguished farmers of UP, Rahul Gandhi’s “crocodile tears” had a clear political motive.
The 34-year-old communist rule in West Bengal has been punished by the voters for its ill-conceived move to seize agricultural land – by over ruling farmers’ stir – and rapidly industrialize a development-starved state.
Rahul Gandhi's dramatic motorcycle ride in the disputed area of Bhatta-Parsaul village in Greater Noida, televised interactions with villagers followed by his even more dramatic arrest by a visibly unnerved Mayawati regime in a late night swoop were a perfect recipe of a political journey for the Congress crown prince.
The political pundits and especially those swearing by pro-Congress allegiance have been quick to jump that the arrest and release of Rahul Gandhi is only a “beginning” of the second phase of the Congress revival in UP, hitherto considered in BSP supremo Mayawati’s kitty.
The ‘Congress yuvaraj’, a phrase given by Mayawati, faces a dire challenge of reviving party’s stocks in UP especially in the backdrop of its nosedive decline in onetime strongholds like Andhra Pradesh. A seemingly revival of Congress in eastern UP in 2009 – where in the party surprisingly had managed 21 seats mostly from eastern UP – has not taken off since then. Rahul magic simply failed if not boomeranged in neighbouring Bihar and in down south Tamil Nadu most of his youth Congress nominees were handed over convincing defeat. In Andhra, YSR Jaganmohan Reddy and his mother have now given a clarion call threatening the crown prince and his mother Sonia.
The going in UP would not be too easy either. Mayawati is a tuff nut and her Dalit vote bank is likely to only “reward” her for fighting ‘manuvadi’ forces like Congress and BJP and opportunists politics of Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party.
Moreover, once the euphoria over arrest drama settles down; people are going to ask – that include even UP farmers – why the central government, which is supposed to be remote controlled by Rahul’s mother Sonia Gandhi, has not able to push through a ‘land owners’ friendly’ legislation on Land Acquisition.
“The Congress had promised about the Land Acquisition Bill in June-July 2009, but after that a number of parliament sessions passed and the Bill is still in cold storage. It only shows Congress double standards,” said Rajnath Singh of BJP – who in a competitive politics sat on dharna at Ghaziabad a day after Rahul was arrested.
In fact, Rahul’s “theatrics” had irked BJP too, which is also in need of major political issue to stage a comeback. The saffron party in a belated show of purpose and unity staged a dharna at Ghaziabad with Arun Jaitley, Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha, joining Singh. A suave orator, Jaitley mocked at Rahul’s “motorcycle stunt” and said the genuineness of Congress party would be always questioned as it is the same party which announced “austerity measures, traveled one-day in a train compartment and then book only private planes”.
Both Jaitley and Rajnath Singh also courted arrest and scored some brownie points on that.
Samajwadi leader Akhilesh Yadav, whose party is also trying to take on BSP regime head on, endorsed BJP leaders’ sentiment and said: “It is nice that Congress and Rahul Gandhi are taking interest in farmers’ issues, but why did the Central government not bring in the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill as promised.”
Another BJP leader, Vinay Katiar has gone a step further and alleged that there is a tacit understanding between the BSP and the Congress. “The BSP government lifted section 144 to facilitate Rahul’s entry and the Congress has returned the favour by not initiating the disproportionate assets case against Mayawati,” he said.
Jaitley also pointed out repeated floundering stance taken by BSP vis-à-vis Congress-led UPA in the centre and pointed out how despite “staging drama of fighting each other in UP”, in parliament BSP has bailed out Congress twice – first in 2009 cut motion and more recently during PAC deliberations on high-profile 2G spectrum scam.
A determined Mayawati, might have obliged Rahul Gandhi by the arrest and given some mileage, but is ruthlessly pursuing her battle too and has accused the opposition parties of conspiring to “mislead’ people to embarrass her government.
She too has thrown in back the Land Acquisition Bill ball to Congress camp and said that the Centre has not provided “due compensation” to farmers for Rae Bareli rail coach factory land and said Rahul should have been standing with them in Sonia Gandhi’s constituency and not in Noida.
Another charge is going to haunt Congress leadership and sadly for Rahul, heir-apparent to Congress leadership and the natural inheritor to PMO, it is coming from Congress backyards in Andhra Pradesh.
Tribals in parts of Andhra Pradesh and social activists are wondering why Rahul isn't bothered about similar conditions in pockets like Sompeta, Kakarapalli, or Pollavaram in Andhra where agricultural land is being taken for projects without the permissions of the people.
The Prime Minister has seemingly taken cognizance of the developments and directed union RD minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to work on the bill.
Another UP’s key political player, Ajit Singh is also playing his card well on the issue and has used this as a plank to arm-twist Congress leadership to rope him in for the bigger battle against Mayawati especially among the Jat land.
Historian Sumit Sarkar had said a few years back that “the Special Economic Zone (SEZ) policy is the biggest land grab movement in the history of modern India”. Billed as a brainchild of Dr Manmohan Singh during his UPA-I stint, at least on paper SEZ provides for special export-promoting industrial areas with superior infrastructure facilities and also tax concessions.
But in effect, the experience has been bad. The greed of corporate and even with tacit help of MNCs and Indian political class, “land acquisition” has been used only to inflict more economic hardship on “poor agrarian community”. They are being built on prime agricultural land, without adequate compensation for farmers or rehabilitating them.
So far this scandalous ‘land acquisition’ has only able to exacerbate India's already wide regional and economic imbalances.
The Left government in Bengal had to pay a price for it. But the larger issue of the “price people have to pay” remains unattended.
The Environment minister Jairam Ramesh recently upped the ante against the Prime Minister himself when he said that he had to give clearance to several projects owing to “pressure” from higher ups. The social activists like Prashant Bhushan and Kuldip Nayar are already saying that “For Prime Minister it seems development means only siphoning the public money and assets (lands) for the enrichment of big corporate houses”.
As of now, these activists are not demanding Ramesh’s resignation saying at least by staying on the minister is “showing some resistance”.
Bhushan also maintained that irrespective of party affiliations there is a “big fraud being played with the land, mineral resources and public finances”. “The very concept of private-public-partnership (PPP) is a big fraud,” he said adding, “It is the same syndrome and approach we find in Maheshwar project (under S Kumars) in Madhya Pradesh, which was cleared by PMO interference and the land acquisition in Noida,” he said.