Congress president Sonia Gandhi rejected on Friday an offer for a dialogue on the controversial land acquisition bill, saying it was a mockery of the consensus-building attempt by a myopic, anti-farmer Narendra Modi government which was bending backwards to favour industrialists.
She asked the government to rise above narrow politics and bring back the legislation passed by the UPA in 2013, which she said was brought in on the premise of an extensive debate and consensus.
“In contrast, the amendments you have brought to this law have completely bypassed any debate or discussion. Your proposition for a debate after the government has unilaterally imposed an anti-farmer law is a mockery of the tradition of building bipartisan consensus before introducing laws of national importance,” she said in reply to Union transport and shipping minister Nitin Gadkari’s recent letter to her.
Gadkari wrote to Gandhi, leaders of other opposition parties and social activist Anna Hazare last week, inviting them to an open debate on the land bill awaiting clearance in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling NDA is in a minority.
The Opposition, Hazare and even NDA ally Shiv Sena have opposed the proposed amendments to the legislation which will dilute a crucial consent clause during acquisition of land for certain projects.
The government described Gandhi’s stand on the land bill as political grandstanding. “It is interesting and strange that the Congress president is defending a law that several chief ministers of her party were unhappy about,” commerce minister Nirmala Sitharaman said.
An increasingly assertive Gandhi has been leading the opposition’s fight against the contentious bill and aggressively defending the UPA’s policies, which came to the fore when she led a solidarity march after a court summoned former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the coal scam.
Gandhi insisted that the 2013 law was not a legacy of just the Congress but of all parties, including the BJP, which gave their suggestions and came together for a landmark legislation to give primacy to the interests of farmers and labourers.
“This explains why opposition to this amended legislation comes not just from the Congress and the like-minded parties, but also from constituents of the NDA,” she said.
She called farmers the nation’s backbone and the Congress would never support a law that hurts them.
Rebutting Gadkari’s letter, the Congress chief said she was amazed at its unabashed display of half-truths and misrepresentations. “I should not, of course, be surprised because this is typical of your government when it runs out of logical and convincing arguments … Regrettably, all that you have said is without any foundation whatsoever.”