Prime Minister Narendra Modi set a new precedent for himself and his government on Mann ki Baat platform. By declaring that the controversial land acquisition bill will lapse on August 31, Modi sought to correct an anti-farmer perception about his government.
Retreat on a bill that was so crucial to growth means that the government will now struggle to deliver on its core promise of “sabka saath, sabka vikaas’.
Modi has set a new agenda ahead of the Swabhimaan rally for Lalu Yadav-Nitish Kumar-Sonia Gandhi combine in Patna. With state polls due every year leading up to 2019, one can only wonder if this government will ever re-discover its appetite for reforms—though the options of leaving it to the states still exists.
It may be mentioned here he has not attached any ego or prestige to this issue. The message that he is a democrat and his government has an open mind was willing to accept any pro-farmer suggestion, was made with a finger on the public pulse. At the same time, his government admitted that it had blundered and had the heart to admit it.
Modi said the ordinance and the amendments were carried out with a good intent, but since perception mattered, he was taking a step back. Also, he did not name the suggestion for amendments had come from the then Congress-ruled states of Haryana and Maharashtra.
The reversal of a such an important policy decision could not have been easy for Modi. Land acquisition was a vital component of the promises made by Modi in the run up to 2014 general polls.
Also, he went a step further by listing compensation benefits in 13 other categories—an area that was left open for correction at a future date by the 2013 Act. By making a volte-face of this nature, business, industry have criticised that the government’s resolve was weakening.
The 13 Central enactments in the fourth schedule, include the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, Atomic Energy Act, Damodar Valley Corporation Act, Indian Tramways Act, Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act, The National Highways Act, Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act, Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act, Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act, Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act, Electricity Act and Railways Act.
He is also using this platform to address areas of social conflict such as Gujarat violence during the Patel reservation agitation and about dengue-related concerns. This portrays an attempt by Modi to reach out to all sections of society.
Modi’s announcement to acquire sites for the purpose of building memorials in the name of buildings related to Dr BR Ambedkar—one in Mumbai and the other in London—for the purpose of his name, is politically significant. Modi and BJP are wooing Dalits in Bihar and UP, as well as across the country.
And now, while he may have given ground on the land ordinance, he has given himself a new talking point while campaigning for the BJP in Bihar elections.