Party wary of 2015 becoming its year of defeats due to anti-poor image. Archis Mohan reports
The top two in the government and in the Bharatiya Janata Party, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party President Amit Shah, respectively, spent the day trying to hard sell not just the contentious land Bill but also how the Modi government stood for the welfare of farmers.
Shah’s inaugural address on the first day of the BJP national executive laid bare the party’s unease at the Opposition’s criticism that it runs a government at the Centre that is anti-poor and pro-corporate. Modi, at a rally at the city’s National College Grounds, also tried to counter the Opposition’s allegations by talking at length the government’s proposed programmes for the welfare of farmers and to make agriculture more productive and reduce agrarian distress.
The prime minister elaborated his government’s efforts in trying to improve farm yields through better irrigation, soil testing facilities and improved seeds. He said India’s villages have been kept away from development -- pucca roads, power supply, water for irrigating fields and homes. “Shouldn’t villages get these facilities?” he asked.
“Those spreading lies do not know how to protect the interests of farmers,” Modi said.
“How did farmers lose their land? Where did it go?... To get a job of a peon for their children or to make them a driver, they used to be compelled to sell their land to pay bribes... The (previous) governments compelled them to (sell land),” Modi said on a day when the government re-promulgated the land acquisition ordinance a day before it is to lapse.
Modi said he knew of several farmers with landholdings of two to five bighas who would rather sell a portion of their land to raise money to bribe government officials and get their sons jobs as peons and drivers. “It is our governments of the past that have forced farmers to sell their lands,” the PM said.
In his speech Shah said the Modi-led government was “of the poor, farmers and workers”. He said BJP workers could claim with “utmost conviction” that the Modi government had not brought a single amendment to the land Bill that was anti-farmer. He described 2014 as a year of electoral triumphs for the BJP, with the party winning the Lok Sabha and the state Assembly elections that year. But he seemed wary that 2015, which started with the embarrassing loss in Delhi, could end with a reverse in Bihar. He asked the party to work hard to ensure a majority in Bihar.
Shah spoke at the meeting standing in front of a backdrop that read ‘antyodaya hamara sankalp’ or ‘our pledge is to reach the last man, the poorest of the poor’. The BJP president spoke for an hour but rarely about the Narendra Modi government notching up key successes in pushing its reformist agenda during the Budget session of Parliament. He mentioned these legislative triumphs only in passing and that too to illustrate how the current government has corrected the scam-ridden years of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) governments by a transparent auctions of coal mines and spectrum.
Much of Shah’s speech was devoted to asking the party to work for Dalits, the poor and the marginalised, and protect the interests of the farmers. He said the Modi government had refused to acquiesce at the World Trade Organisation to phase out the minimum support price by 2016.
“The UPA was willing to surrender the interests of farmers at the WTO but our government stuck with them,” said Union minister Prakash Javadekar while briefing the media about Shah’s speech. Javadekar went on to claim the BJP to be “a party of farmers, led by farmers and mandated by farmers”.
The BJP asked its workers to tell farmers that the land bill is for their good.
Shah, possibly with an eye on Bihar’s Dalit voter base, asked party workers to work for social causes as well, the foremost of these being liberating India from the scourge of manual scavenging. He asked party workers to ensure that the 2.3 million manual scavengers benefit from government schemes. Shah also asked them to contribute to ‘beti bachao, beti padhao’ or ‘save and teach the girl child’ campaign and also the ‘clean Ganga campaign’.
“We should go beyond politics and take up social causes,” Shah said, echoing Modi’s speech to the BJP office bearers on Thursday where he had asked them to follow the example of Mahatma Gandhi, Ram Manohar Lohia and Deendayal Upadhyaya for inspiring their followers to take up social causes.
The BJP president laid stress on the government’s efforts to introduce social security for the unorganised sector, pension schemes for workers and highlighted that the Jan Dhan Yojana has helped increase the self-esteem of the poorest.