‘Reality TV-like suicide’ unlikely to sway PM Narendra Modi on land bill

  • Krittivas Mukherjee, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 23, 2015 09:17 IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi may come under added political pressure on the contentious land bill following the suicide by a farmer to protest against the move, but the incident is unlikely to force the government to back down from its plans.

Within minutes of the man hanging himself from a tree not far from Parliament, the opposition Congress blamed the government for the death, with party vice-president Rahul Gandhi linking it to the land acquisition bill .

"I just want to tell the farmers we are with them and they should not feel scared at all," said Gandhi, who recently returned from a 56-day mystery break to seize on a growing political debate over the land bill to re-establish his political credibility.

"All this has happened because of the ordinance that has been brought by the BJP government."

Already, the government has been under pressure from the opposition which says Modi is rewarding industrialists for bankrolling his election last year with a legislation that makes it easier to procure farmland for industry. Modi denies his plans, now stalled in parliament, are anti-farmer.

On top of that, his government stands accused of doing precious little to bail out farmers struggling with huge crop losses from untimely rains across north India. Dozens of farmers in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are said to have committed suicide unable to repay crop loans.

Wednesday's suicide may add fat to political fire, political analysts said, but any turmoil is unlikely to sway Modi who has staked his personal reputation on the land acquisition bill.

"The opposition will try to exploit this, there will probably be some uproar -- but to say that this suicide will have a bearing on the fate of the bill would be stretching it too far," said S Parasuraman, director of the Mumbai-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

"Such important policies are guided by larger national interest."

For Modi, amending the exiting land law's rigid consent and social-impact clauses is imperative to kick-start investment that is needed to create jobs for about 10 million young Indians entering the workforce every year.

But the opposition says removing the consent clause would leave poor farmers vulnerable to exploitation.

The farmer's suicide, carried out next to Modi's seat of power, could become a rallying point for the opposition, political analysts say, although it was not likely to further complicate an already-polarised debate.

"There will be impediments, obstacles and this tragedy is one such very sad incident. But I don't think the government will climb down," RV Kanoria, former chief of industry lobby FICCI.

But opposition parties may already be sharpening their political knives. Hours after the suicide, the Congress asked for an FIR to be filed against Modi and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal.

Still, given the government's lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha, the land bill remains more of a parliamentary challenge.

"What happened today was a reality TV-style suicide but we hope rationality will prevail," said public intellectual and author Gurcharan Das.

"The opposition shouldn't undermine jobs and the future of the young in this country."


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