Deconstructing Rahul’s Kisan Rally

Sudesh Verma

Apr 21, 2015, 02:03 AM | Updated Feb 11, 2016, 09:11 AM IST

Yes, the farmers’ rally in Delhi was well-attended, but does the Congress have a governance model that is an alternative to Modi’s? And does Rahul have it in him to rejuvenate a party still in shell shock?

Rahul Gandhi’s Kisan rally on Sunday, proclaiming the NDA government’s amendments to the UPA’s Land Acquisition Bill of being anti-farmer, must have bolstered the Congress’s confidence. Not that the Congress’s position can stand an expert’s scrutiny, but it has associated itself with an issue that was just waiting for appropriation.

Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan was certainly packed when Rahul took the stage. “(Modi) has sold land in Gujarat to industrialists there and will do the same across the country,” he told the crowd. He also said that the Congress would be there in the field to oppose forcible land acquisition anywhere in the country. No wonder the party called it Zameen Wapsi (Return the Land) rally.

Most attendees were farmers. But the farmers had not come to the venue to support the Congress’s core agenda of repealing the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act. By their own admission to reporters, they had come because of the destitution inclement weather has left them with. Most must have suffered crop failure; they looked up to the government to come to their rescue. This communication gap was telling. While the rally was of the Congress, the crowd was demanding action from a government that was the BJP’s — not in a language scripted by the opposition party.

Of late, an impression has gained ground that the NDA government is not working as fast as it should, particularly in the light of the promises of achchhe din. This, even though the government has taken long-term decisions pertaining to various sectors of the economy — from raising the states’ share in revenue to replacing a dysfunctional Planning Commission with a NITI Aayog cooperating with states — that would impact us all positively in times to come. Rating agencies across the world have upgraded India’s value, be it Moody’s or Standard and Poor’s. And experts agree with the upgrade!

But people do not have patience. They want quick results. And in politics, you can’t complain about that. The government needs to tell them what has been done, and delivery of the goods should reach their doorsteps sooner than expected.

There could be a communication problem here, and Prime Minister Modi seems to realize that. Yesterday, addressing the BJP’s parliamentarians, he reiterated the need to reach out to the people. This appeal is now a bit old, but the MPs are still conspicuous by their absence in the field.

The UPA’s Land Acquisition Act, which the NDA is trying to amend, went down badly almost across the spectrum. Industry was extremely unhappy. And interestingly enough, most chief ministers, including those of the Congress, had written to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, complaining either that the Act had made development impossible or that it was unfair to the people.

Of course, no law or amendment can satisfy all sections of the economy. But the Congress now sees in the new scenario an opportunity to salvage its busted image.

A critical analysis would prove that the NDA’s amendments are rational and would not harm the interests of farmers. But who is explaining that to the people, especially farmers? Not the BJP at least, not yet. The party is strangely confident that it will be able to convince farmers about the positive benefits of the Bill. At the national executive meeting of the party in Bengaluru in the first week of this month, Doubting Thomases in the rank and file of the party were asked to go out and launch a counterattack and aggressively explain the reason for the amendments. But not much action on this front has been seen after the meeting ended.

Is this government not worried because events such as the farmers’ rally would not dent its image in the long run? Modi had said earlier that one had to work for four years and then think of elections in the fifth year. Rightly put, but only so far as the Lok Sabha is concerned. BJP lost the plot to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi. Things may go wrong in Punjab, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as well if the disenchantment over the Bill is not countered and contained. If politics is a battle of perceptions, the NDA must now bring out its heavy artillery in order to win it. And very soon.

As for the Congress scion, the “Kisan rally” was supposed to present a new Rahul Gandhi amidst talks that he might eventually be made Congress president or working president so that he gets a free hand to organize the party. Rahul needs to shape a new team of his own the way Rajiv Gandhi, his father, had built one of his own. Dismissed as Goongi Gudiya (mute doll) by rivals in the party, Indira Gandhi had flourished after she got her own team by relegating old leaders to jobs of lesser responsibilities.

But then, Rahul is supposed to have been trying to do that for at least seven years now, and where his grandmother succeeded, his father lost his first Lok Sabha election after a full term as Prime Minister.

A big rally was needed to boost the confidence of Rahul Gandhi since he went completely incommunicado during his mysterious 59-day sabbatical. Contradictions within the Congress have helped project the image of Rahul as a reluctant leader. After this rally, will he now work passionately towards rebuilding the party by associating with pro-poor issues? That, after all, has been the Congress’s brand identity, which the BJP snatched away.

And the supposed pro-poor policies of the UPA government—the massive doles it shelled out—got it only 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, and not a single one in the Delhi Assembly polls.

Things to watch in the coming days would be the manner in which Rahul may try to erase from public memory the Congress’s inglorious record of scams, corruption, manipulations and plain inaction in the 10 years of UPA rule. Can the Congress take one of the states where it is in power — say, Karnataka — and deliver a government free from corruption?

One well-attended rally in Delhi cannot salvage the party’s position in that state whose government is beleaguered by allegations of insensitive governance and political violence, and cases demonstrating lack of safety for girl children. Criticising Modi’s Gujarat model is easy: producing a different model on which people will repose trust is not. If the Congress can show a better government of its own, it can redeem itself and claim its right to challenge Narendra Modi, the right it lost and is far from recovering.

Gone are the days when you can build your campaign around chicanery. Presence of social media has ensured that news presented by mainstream media is vetted through strict scrutiny of facts. Yesterday, while TV celebrated Rahul, Facebook and Twitter users appeared more interested in his caricatures!

*Laws Exempted From Compensation Liability by UPA - Click To Expand

* Then Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh had linked Section 105 to the UPA government’s Land Acquisition Act. As per the Section, the farmer is liable to no compensation whatsoever if his land was acquired under one of the 13 laws that fall under Schedule Four. Such acquisition was also free of social impact assessment and immune to the Food Security Act.

Laws exempted from compensation liability by UPA:

1. The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of 1958).

2. The Atomic Energy Act, 1962 (33 of 1962).

3. The Damodar Valley Corporation Act, 1948 (14 of 1948)

4. The Indian Tramways Act, 1886 (11 of 1886).

5. The Land Acquisition (Mines) Act, 1885 (18 of 1885).

6. The Metro Railways (Construction of Works) Act, 1978 (33 of 1978).

7. The National Highways Act, 1956 (48 of 1956).

8. The Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Acquisition of Right of User in Land) Act, 1962 (50 of 1962).

9. The Requisitioning and Acquisition of Immovable Property Act, 1952 (30 of 1952).

10. The Resettlement of Displaced Persons (Land Acquisition) Act, 1948 (60 of 1948).

11. The Coal Bearing Areas Acquisition and Development Act, 1957 (20 of 1957).

12. The Electricity Act, 2003 (36 of 2003).

13. The Railways Act, 1989 (24 of 1989).

Therefore, the Congress’s stand against the amendments the NDA government has brought about is hypocritical. Remember, farmers had protested even in 2013. As per the amendments brought about by the NDA government, farmers are entitled to immediate compensation even when their land is acquired under the laws above 

A strong Congress in the Opposition will be good for the country, but the party must rediscover itself to rise to the occasion. Pandering to narrow interests will not work in the long run.

Sudesh Verma is a senior journalist and president of Debating India Foundation, a Delhi based think tank. He has authored Narendra Modi: The Game Changer, a bestseller on the life and career of the Indian Prime Minister.

Get Swarajya in your inbox.