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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 10, February 28, 2015

Actions Accentuate Alienation

Sunday 1 March 2015, by SC


The Budget session of Parliament has begun with the Opposition mounting a fierce attack on the Treasury Benches on the new Land Acquisition Bill the BJP-led NDA Government has introduced in the Lok Sabha on the lines of the Ordinance on the subject the Modi dispensation had promulgated in a bid to substantially erode the major provisions of the Land Acquisition Act that came into force following the passage of the relevant legislation in both Houses of Parliament during the UPA Government in 2013.

Both inside Parliament and outside in New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar there were vociferous protests against the Modi Government’s move to overturn the 2013 legislation-converted-into-land-law. Besides the political parties and voluntary organisations like the Narmada Bachao Andolan and farmers’ groups, spearheading the charge was the redoubtable Anna Hazare of India-Against-Corruption fame, having won full support from the newly elected Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party on the question. The principal opposition is on two basic issues: (a) removing the need for obtaining consent of the landowners before acquiring the land, and (b) doing away with the requirement of social impact assessment (SIA) for acquiring certain categories of land. These would strike at the livelihood of large sections of people who depend on land for their very existence. [If one carefully examines these, one would observe that the Modi Government’s action is dictated by a desire to bend over backwards to placate the corporate sector in order to boost ‘investment’ at the cost of the poor and marginalised.]

Significantly, several allies of the BJP in the NDA—the Shiv Sena, Shiromani Akali Dal and LJP—have also sharply opposed a number of clauses (including the aforementioned ones) in the proposed legislation being sought to be made into law. As a consequence the BJP is suffering from complete isolation in Parliament on the subject. Yet the PM does not want to relent under pressure. However, one of his Cabinet colleagues, Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari, transmitted a different signal yesterday, saying: “We are open to accepting good suggestions offered by other parties. If people have some opinions on the social impact assessment (SIA) or consent clauses, we are willing to hear them out.” This was evidence of the government’s effort to break the isolation expeditiously.

The government has come under fire from the united Opposition on the subjects of conversion and creation of social disharmony as well. These were the questions that had disrupted the Upper House of Parliament during its winter session in the absence of the PM’s reassurance that such steps will not be tolerated by the authorites. On February 17, while addressing a meeting in the Capital organised by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church to celebrate the canonisation of two Indians, PM Narendra Modi came out with the much awaited reassurance. Asserting that anyone had the right to retain or adopt the religion of her/his choice without coercion, he warned that the government will not allow any religious group, of majority or minority community, to incite hatred against any other community.

But within six days of such pronouncements by the PM, that is, on February 23, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat queered the pitch when, at a function to inaugurate an orphanage and women’s home in Bharatpur, he referred to Mother Teresa and said her social service was devalued because of her motive to “convert those she served to Christianity”, adding: “Here nothing like that will happen. In our country, social service is done like this: selflessly, completely selflessly.” This was an outspoken attempt at self-indulgence while playing down the outstanding social service of the celebrated Nobel Laureate.

Such a statement has naturally raised a storm inside Parliament. Whle the PM resorted to his golden silence (that prompted some of his critics to conclude that ‘silence is consent’), it was hilarious to find one Minister, that of Parliamentary Affairs, M. Venkaiah Naidu, who had the other day publicly hailed the RSS by boasting that “we are proud to be a part of that great organisation”, going out of his way to indirectly protect the RSS chief by insisting that the organisation he headed was a social outfit unrelated to the BJP or the government at the Centre. Whom was he trying to fool? Himself? The debates in both Houses on this issue have exposed the BJP’s doublespeak in full measure.

The ruling party’s moves are bound to isolate it further among the people at large. It should understand that beyond the Modi rhetoric its actions are actually accentuating its alienation from the masses.

February 26 S.C.