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BW Businessworld

A Debate That Turned Macabre

The grizzly spectacle of farmer Gajendra hanging himself from a tree has reinforced all the issues that have been building up against the Land Acquisition Ordinance. Farmers’ suicides, the subject of investigative reporting and surveys, had so far been far away from Delhi in the rural heartlands only. In a strange and accidental way, all the motifs —suicide by impoverished, debt-laden farmers, and the charge that the central government has turned a blind eye — have come to haunt the Modi government.

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The grizzly spectacle of farmer Gajendra hanging himself from a tree has reinforced all the issues that have been building up against the Land Acquisition Ordinance. Farmers’ suicides, the subject of investigative reporting and surveys, had so far been far away from Delhi in the rural heartlands only. In a strange and accidental way, all the motifs —suicide by impoverished, debt-laden farmers, and the charge that the central government has turned a blind eye — have come to haunt the Modi government.

Union home minister Rajnath Singh has been at pains to point out that the death by hanging was because of the callousness of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) volunteers who did not bother to save Gajendra. After all, it happened at a farmers rally called by AAP to oppose the Land Bill! The Delhi Police have even filed an FIR alleging that AAP volunteers “laughed and cheered” on Gajendra and were complicit in his suicide.

The truth is complex. Gajendra had, in fact, spoken about successfully raising Rs 1.5 lakh for an impending marriage in his family. Then why did he take his life? Was the land ordinance and the Modi Sarkar on his mind when he took his life?

All these are issues that investigators and psychiatrists will debate in days to come. But for most common folks in the country, their mind is made up. They see the public suicide as a ‘protest’ against the failure of the government’s farm policy; and its current inability to tackle the vast swathes of drought and indebtedness in rural India. 

Businessworld has all along said the Land Bill is going to be the Modi government’s litmus test. Events are now unfolding in that direction. It appears the original plan to move the Land Amendment Bill in Rajya Sabha after the recess has been temporarily shelved. The house, which started on 23 April after the recess, witnessed uproarious scenes. Members pointed out that the prime reason for the rural distress was the recent unseasonal rains and hailstorms that had damaged crops.

The Opposition has demanded that the debate on the land Bill be postponed. Congress MPs have also been insisting that the Bill, if defeated in the Rajya Sabha, where the BJP government is in a minority, BJP not insist on a Joint Session of both houses of Parliament to push it through. Can the government shelve the Bill and lose face? Or will it use its numbers to push it through a joint session?

It is a difficult dilemma especially when a billion people are watching. Rahul Gandhi, has charged Narendra Modi for bringing in the Land Bill as ‘pay-back’ to the corporates who funded him. The Congress can smell the tide turning and it appears the Modi government does not have an answer.

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 18-05-2015)


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