There were no bloopers and escape velocities and poverty of the mind, but it was his uninformed, dispassionate attempt at politics and economics, yet again.
RG, as Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi is popularly known, valiantly championed the cause of farmers as he criticised a seemingly exploitative land acquisition bill in its NDA form. Summer is the season of rallies in New Delhi. The Congress mobilised its entire machinery to ensure that thousands and thousands of farmers were there to give the Gandhi scion a warm welcome. It is perhaps irrelevant that many were clueless about the Land Acquisition Act, as per a leading daily newspaper, in protest of which they had all congregated, leaving their fields around harvest time - the most valuable time in a farmer's work cycle.
And to compete with politics of populism and jingoism, Delhi Chief Minister and Aam Aadmi Party Convenor Arvind Kejriwal promptly took the stage at the Ramlila Maidan three days later - where he quoted M.S. Swaminathan and spoke about the plight of farmers in Modi's India and the unfairness of the Land Acquisition Bill. Let's not even attempt to understand AAP's economic policies, will keep that for a later post. Anyway, to directly address the issue at hand, considering the noise around what is actually a fair piece of legislation is getting deafening, here are some quick facts on the bill.
The revised bill will actually compensate the farmer four times the market price - double the market value in urban areas and quadruple in rural. The UPA amended Land Acquisition Act earlier asked for compensation as per the prevailing market prices, which was later changed - this has been a key reason for farmers' discontent. They felt cheated because inevitably the purpose of the land was not disclosed and when prices appreciated the compensation was grossly inadequate. Until now, farmers' compensation has been woefully short, because while UPA's land acquisition bill technically came into effect in January 2014, a change of government in May and suggested amendments followed by a rhetoric-driven debate has put land acquisition on the back burner.
Consent clause and social impact analysis: The bill was further amended in 2011 to include consent by 80 per cent of farmers and a social impact analysis. The amended bill exempts five categories only from this and leaves it to the states to work out the details - (i) defence (ii) rural infrastructure (iii) affordable housing (iv) industrial corridors and (v) infrastructure projects including Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects where the Central government owns the land. According to a research note from the Parliament's library circulated to Members of Parliament, of the 50 million people displaced in the country due to development projects in over 50 years, 16.4 million were displaced by dams, 2.55 million by mines, 1.25 million by industrial development and wild life sanctuaries, and national parks displaced 0.6 million. The note accounts for about 21 million displaced people only. Moreover the LARR Act, 2013 had exempted 13 laws from its purview - such as the National Highways Act, 1956 and the Railways Act 1989, which the amended act brings in its purview.
Go for the wasteland first: Several calculations show that the amended bill could impact about a per cent or two per cent of total land owners and that too will depend on how the states decide to approach it. Land is a state subject and "acquisition and requisitioning of property" is in the concurrent list. Which essentially means that both Parliament and state legislatures can make laws on this subject. Also the amended bill talks about identifying wastelands first and utilising them.
Jobs: The bill guarantees compulsory employment - 'compulsory' was missing in the earlier version - to a member of the family displaced by land acquisition. Not just member of a family of a land owner, but anybody displaced.
Moreover, size of land holdings have halved from 2.28 hectares in 1970/71 to 1.16 ha in 2010/11, while the number of farmers has doubled from 7 crore to 14 crore. India is adding one crore farmers every five years. With shrinking land holdings, it is getting increasingly difficult for farmers to sustain - a job that can be done by two people is being done by five -primarily also because the state has not been able to create jobs. Cost of inputs and time taken has doubled -while returns continue to be dismal. There is a reason why half of India's workforce in the fields generates 1/7th of India's GDP. Farm incomes have been on a slide, and the states that have done well - such as Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat - are thinking of ways of making farming profitable and simultaneously focussing on create allied industries and jobs.
While Gandhi's outburst might be a reason for the Congress supporters to rejoice, let's not forget that the architect of the most regressive land acquisition law has been the Congress party. It was Indira Gandhi who amended the land acquisition law to declare that farmers whose land was taken forcibly could not be compensated but would get an 'amount'. Jawaharlal Nehru put land acquisition beyond judicial review - the new legislation has a provision for a quasi judicial body in villages and districts for farmer redressal. It was Nehru who had said: "If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country." He was addressing those displaced by the Hirakud Dam.
Standing with the farmer might make for good entertainment drama, but in doing so, the likes of Kejriwal and Gandhi are doing a great disservice to the nation that needs jobs, that needs to revive manufacturing and that needs roads. Of course, that's the kind of politics Gandhi is known to do, of impoverishment and ignorance; of keeping them poor and stupid. Last year, at this time, I was travelling in his constituency, when after a back-breaking journey I asked a farmer if he doesn't feel the need for roads, he said "roads ka hum kya karenge".
That pretty much sums up Gandhi's economics and politics in a nation that wants to progress, wants to shed its skin of legacies and coteries and come out sparkling clean and new.