Hitting the streets against the controversial land bill, Congress on Tuesday accused the Narendra Modi government of being "anti-farmer" and "pro-corporate" and vowed to take the battle across the country but both Sonia and Rahul Gandhi were conspicuous by their absence.
Top leaders like Digvijaya Singh, Jairam Ramesh and Ahmed Patel were present at the zameen wapsi andolan organised at Jantar Mantar, at which senior leaders dubbed as "black ordinance" the emergency measure which brought key changes in United Pradesh Allaince's 2013 land law pushed by Rahul.
While the Congress president was in town, Rahul has taken a two-week sabbatical to reflect on recent incidents and party's future course.
Down in the dumps after its worst-ever debacle in the 2014 general elections, where it reached its nadir to a mere 44 seats in the Lok Sabha and not being able to get even the leader of opposition status, the Congress senses a big opportunity for agitation politics after the ordinance. It has chalked out plans to rally around farmers, hoping it could be an add-on to its traditional Aam Aadmi plank.
Launching a scathing attack on the National Democratic Alliance and calling party workers to pan out across the country and organise farmers, former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh drew parallel of Wednesday's agitation at Jantar Mantar with the comeback trail of the Congress that had begun after its Chikmaglur victory in 1978 giving political re-birth to Indira-Gandhi.
Indira Gandhi had won the seat in 1978 one year after she had lost from her turf Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh in the anti- Emergency wave. "As Chikmaglur had become a sanjeevani (life saving), similarly the Congress will get a sanjeevani from here," Ramesh said. "This is a zamin wapasi agitation against the ghar wapasi government," he said taking a dig at the Bharatiya Janata Party over conversion and reconversion issues in last few months.
Party general secretary Digvijaya Singh projected the agitation against land ordinance as a "fight between farmers-labourers and big industrialists" and asked people to decide who will rule the country. He alleged that while Modi will not honour his promises to people, he will fulfil all promises made to the big industrialists and noted that the land ordinance is a step in that direction.
Congress president's political secretary Ahmed Patel cited the epic Mahabharata to drive home the point that Duryodhan lost the great war after he usurped the land belonging rightfully to others. "They were talking of making the country Congress mukt (free of Congress). Within nine months of coming to power, they want to make the country kisan mukt (free of farmers)," Patel alleged.
Latching on to the auction of Modi's pinstriped coat for Rs 4.31 crore, party spokesperson Raj Babbar asked whether the prime minister wants to hand over farmers' future to such industrialists.
Ramesh said that while it took two years for the UPA to reach a consensus on the bill, it took only two hours for the NDA government to bring an ordinance. "When the ordinance reached the president, he asked for clarifications but the rural development minister wasn't available to do so. The minister wasn't even aware that such an ordinance has been brought.”
"Instead, the finance minister went for clarifications," he said alleging that the move "opened the doors for forced acquisition of farmers' land" on the line of the 1894 land act that existed during the British period. He said that the land ordinance did away with the key provisions of the 2013 law, which was brought after consensus with leaders of all parties including the BJP.
Attacking the government for doing away with provisions like consent clause, social impact survey and diluting the provision for return of acquired land to farmers if it was not used for the specified purpose within five years, Patel said, "they do not want to return the land".
In a speech laced with Urdu couplets, Patel, who hails from Gujarat, sought to paint Modi as a "dictator". He asked party workers to spread the message that "this government is anti-poor and does not think about the interests of the poor."
Attacking BJP President Amit Shah over his "Jumla" remark concerning black money, Patel said this government is interested in making a "Jumla-yukt India".
Singh said that Modi formed a government by "cheating" people but not fulfilling any of the promises made to them. "People will have to decide. On the one hand are farmers, labourers and villages and on the other hand are billionaires," he said. He also claimed that it was Sonia Gandhi, who had initiated the move to bring a Lokpal which "inspired" Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal later.
All India Congress Committee General Secretary Ajay Maken warned of the agitation from slum dwellers in Delhi against the land ordinance and contested Finance Minister Arun Jaitley's claim that land acquisition after the ordinance will help construct houses for the poor.
Calling the farmers "Annadata", Jyotiraditya Scindia said that the Congress has always fought for their issues. "BJP's achche din is only for 20 per cent of the population and not for 80 per cent annadatas. The government had announced to introduce bullet trains. No bullet train has come as yet but this bullet train of ordinances has come," he said.