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Farmer's suicide may strangle land Bill

April 23, 2015 09:35 IST

The Opposition is closing ranks to put the government on the mat

A farmer’s suicide at Jantar Mantar, a stone’s throw away from Parliament, has queered the pitch for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s land acquisition Bill.

With the death of Gajendra Singh of Dausa (Rajasthan), political calculations have gone awry for the National Democratic Alliance government early in its tenure.

Sensing the enormity of the incident, Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to the Delhi police chief and ordered a probe.

"On late Wednesday evening Modi tweeted, “At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone.

"We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India.”

Bharatiya Janata Party leaders were quick to blame the Aam Aadmi Party and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, at whose rally against the land acquisition Bill Singh climbed a tree and hung himself.

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who has positioned himself as a champion of farmers, said, “We will do whatever we can for farmers. We are going to fight the land ordinance.”

The opposition is closing ranks to put the government on the mat as the Rajya Sabha convenes on Thursday.

The recent spell of bad weather that led to large crop losses across north India had pushed the government on the back foot over accusations that its policies were aggravating the crisis in agriculture.

Gandhi strategically ensured his comeback speech after a long sabbatical struck a chord with farmers.

This suicide on the brink of the government’s attempt to clear the land Bill in both houses of Parliament has derailed its plan.

BJP finds itself in a spot in Delhi and in Rajasthan. As the state Congress chief Sachin Pilot came down hammer and tongs, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje could merely say, “We will do whatever is needed, including adequate compensation that is to be paid.”

A string of political leaders made their way to the city hospital where the farmer’s body had been kept.

Kejriwal was among the first.

Congress leader Ajay Maken later accompanied Gandhi.

“I had earlier said farmers are being punished by the Modi government.

"I had said they only help corporates, in Parliament they said suicides are not taking place.

"We will do whatever we can for farmers. We are going to fight the land ordinance, we will not let the BJP government take away the land of our poor farmers,” Gandhi said outside the hospital.

The newly appointed general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), Sitaram Yechury, also visited the hospital.

“For one year, the matter has been raised in Parliament.

"The plight of farmers has been made known to the prime minister and his government.

"This land acquisition ordinance is adding to the misery of farmers,” he said.

Health Minister J P Nadda described the incident as unfortunate, but opposition leaders saw it as dire.

“This is a message to the government. Such amendments will cause further damage to land owners,” warned the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s T K S Elangovan.

The blame game over the suicide began within minutes of Singh being pronounced dead.

AAP leaders alleged inaction by the Delhi police to sabotage their rally. “We kept asking the police to bring him down.

"The police may not be in our control, but at least there should be a semblance of humanity among them,” Kejriwal said.

BJP accused AAP of playing politics and continuing its rally despite the farmer’s death.

Congress, bolstered by the success of its farmers’ rally at Ramlila Maidan here, tore into the government’s “anti-farmer policies”.

The fact that five hours after the incident, when much politics had been played over the "martyr" farmer’s death, Modi chose to tweet and reassure farmers the BJP government was with them and "together" they would create a "better tomorrow for farmer", only underscoring the significance of Singh’s suicide in the government's bid to clear the land Bill.

SUICIDES AT AGITATION

  • December 1952: Potti Sreeramulu undertook a fast unto death demanding the formation of a separate state for the Telugu-speaking population of Madras Presidency, which led to the formation of Andhra Pradesh
     
  • January 1964: DMK member Chinnasamy set himself on fire in Trichy to protest the “imposition of Hindi”. He was hailed as a “language martyr” of the anti-Hindi struggle by DMK
     
  • October 1990: Anti- reservation stir against implementation of the Mandal commission saw Delhi University student Rajeev Goswami setting himself on fire, sparking a series of self-immolation acts
     
  • April 2012: Swami Nigamanand from Haridwar died while on a 73-day fast to save the ‘holy’ Ganga and in protest against illegal mining on its banks

The image is used for representational purpose only. Photograph: Reuters

Kavita Chowdhury in New Delhi
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