The Congress on Sunday declared a full-scale war against the "anti-farmer" and "pro-industrialist" government over the land acquisition bill, with Rahul Gandhi accusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi of bringing an ordinance on it to pay back "loans" of industrialists.
The Congress vice-president, who just returned from a two-month absence from public life, said the new land bill is not only against the interests of farmers but also the tribals.
"I tell you how Modi ji won the election. He took loans of thousands of crores from big industrialists from which his marketing was done. How will he pay back that loan now? He will do it by giving your land to those top industrialists. He wants to weaken the farmers, then snach their land and give it to his industrialist friends," he said addressing a farmers' rally at the Ramlila Maidan.
"Through the Gujarat model, Modi ji showed that he can snatch the land of farmers quite easily and convinced the industrialists that he can do the same in the whole country. This is Modi's model -- weaken the foundation, then attach a ladder to the building, paint it and show to the world that the building is shining," Rahul said.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi accused the Modi government of adding insult to the injury of farmers by bringing the land ordinance.
Promising to fight for the farmers' cause without making any compromises, she said: "Modi government's attitude is totally against the farmers, the helpless and the poor. We have got a new energy here and we will fight for the poor and the weak.
"We will not allow those forces to succeed, who want to destroy the legacy of our freedom. We will fight without any fear against such forces. We might be out of power but we will not allow any leniency in our efforts in this direction," the Congress President said.
Former prime minister Manmohan Singh said the new government had brought the land bill to hurt the interests of the farmers as he alleged that Modi had "sold dreams" to farmers and youth to win Lok Sabha polls.
Sonia Gandhi has already led several protests tapping into the growing anger against the bill.
The Congress has pulled out all the stops to galvanise support in New Delhi for the mass protest, which is being seen as a springboard for the 44-year-old Gandhi to relaunch himself as a strong party leader.
Rahul Gandhi meeting farmers on Saturday. (Ajay Aggarwal/ HT Photo)
But his decision in February to go on a two-month sabbatical from politics sparked widespread criticism about his lacklustre leadership and speculation about his future.
The new legislation would make it easier to acquire land for crucial infrastructure projects as part of Modi's pledges to revive the economy after storming to power last May -- but rivals say the move will hurt millions of farmers.
The proposed bill exempts projects related to defence, rural housing and power, along with industrial corridors, from the requirement that 80% of the affected landowners must agree to a sale.
It also does away with the need for a "social impact assessment" to find out how many people would be affected by the loss of land.
Supporters of the Congress party at the Ramlila Maidan. (Raj K Raj/ HT Photo)
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says these rules are restrictive and deter the investment needed to fuel India's growth. Rahul Gandhi -- along with the Congress chief and senior party members -- will address more than 100,000 farmers from across the country at the rally just a day before the reopening of Parliament, when the government is expected to reintroduce its bill.
"(The) rally would be a historic rally... we want to expose this BJP government for the way farmers have been duped," Sachin Pilot, a Congress member, said on Saturday.
Rahul Gandhi met with farmer groups at his bungalow ahead of Sunday's protest, making his first public appearance on Saturday since returning last week on Thursday. He discussed the impact the new law will have on the farmers, many of whom have seen their crops devastated by unseasonal rains this year.
His party, however, ran into a controversy amid reports it was offering free liquor to drum up support for a Delhi rally.
Interacting with farmers from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, and Punjab at his 12 Tughlak Lane residence ahead of Sunday’s public meeting at the Capital’s Ramlila Ground, Gandhi told them the “pain, suffering and anguish of the entire farming community are closest to my heart”.
To ensure the anti-land law rally’s success, Congress sources in Punjab said all sitting party MLAs and candidates who lost last year’s polls were asked by the party’s state in-charge, Shakeel Ahmad, to bring two buses packed with supporters from each constituency.
“We are not promising any money to those going for the rally. But we have provided for two boxes of liquor per bus,” said a Congress leader who did not wish to be named.
An official Congress spokesperson, however, said the party had no knowledge of such activity.
The government has defended the changes as a catalyst for growth -- from building new cities and factories to more roads and industrial corridors.
But its attempts so far to push the Land Acquisition Bill through Parliament have been stonewalled by a united Opposition, which controls the Upper House.
While the government has issued a temporary order making it easier to buy land for projects, the changes need approval in the parliamentary session starting Monday to be made permanent.