PM takes fight to Oppn, unveils ‘big plan’ to give land to farmers

  • HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times, Bengaluru
  • Updated: Apr 04, 2015 10:28 IST

In a combative public speech on Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended his government's decisions and announced a "big campaign" to hand out land to farmers, a surprise move to blunt an unrelenting Opposition's land bill charge.

Though he did not directly mention the fresh land ordinance - promulgated earlier in the day after the President's nod - or spell out the details of the new programme to be launched soon, Modi said land records would be "reformed" and farmers would stand to gain from it.

"Land records will be reformed so that farmers get back their land (which they lost). For this, we will launch a big campaign," he said.

Addressing a public meeting on the sidelines of the ruling BJP's national executive meet in Bengaluru, Modi sought to take the fight to the Opposition, following a tough Parliament session and some sharp attacks in recent days following a racist remark by one of his ministers.

The PM said some of the NDA's policies - "niti (policy)" - might appear to be similar to that of its predecessor, but it was his government's "niyat", or intentions, that set it apart.

Modi came down hard on the Opposition that has vowed to resist the "anti-farmer" land bill. "How did farmers lose their land? Where did it go?" Modi asked.

"To get a job of a peon for their children or to make them a driver, they used to be compelled to sell their land to pay bribes. The (previous) governments compelled them (to sell land)," Modi said.

The government has been pushing an altered version of the UPA-era land law which waters down certain clauses to make it easier for industry to acquire land. The government says this is needed to boost industry and create jobs needed to absorb about 10 million people joining the workforce every year.

But the move has sparked criticism from opposition parties, especially the Congress, which is seeking to revive its political fortunes building a campaign around opposition to the BJP's land bill.

The BJP, which easily pushed the land ordinance through the Lok Sabha, does not have the numbers to get it through the Rajya Sabha. It is hoping to see through the re-promulgated ordinance in the second half of the budget session beginning April 20 by winning over support of some smaller parties.

Stressing he had lived among farmers, Modi said he could understand their plight and was working with "good intention" to address their woes.

The ruling party's conclave has been a show of resolve to persevere with Modi policies. The party, said sources, was examining a proposal to hold a series of rally in May in support of the legislation that aims to ease land acquisition rules for industry.

In an address to party workers that preceded Modi's speech, BJP president Amit Shah sought to rally the rank and file around the land bill, saying it was pro-farmer. However, uncertainty over whether party patriarch Lal Krishna Advani would be picked as a speaker, among many others, made for a controversy.

Shah too described the BJP as a "friend of farmers" and said "the Opposition had deliberately spread many misgivings about the bill which is in the interest of farmers".

Modi, in his speech, stressed India had ushered in the good days with the BJP rule.

"Despair has turned into hope in the last ten months," the PM said, adding "The world had forgotten India under the UPA government. Now the country is a star."

The PM asked well-off sections of the middle class to give up gas subsidies so the poorest could benefit. "When I asked people of Delhi, 2 lakh of them came forward. Because of that, we saved Rs 100 crore which is now being disbursed to those who need it most."

Modi also pointed out steps to uncover black money accounts abroad. "When we presented the bill in Parliament, the Opposition made fun of us. Now their mouths are shut," he said.

Marching towards with the meeting venue, some Youth Congress members had distributed fake Rs 15 lakh cheques among bystanders, seeking to remind Modi of his poll promise to bring back black money stashed in overseas accounts.

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