Beleaguered Indian Congress party leader Rahul Gandhi is set to lead thousands of farmers Sunday in a protest against Prime Minister Narendra Modi`s controversial plans to overhaul land purchasing laws.
The new legislation would make it easier to acquire land for crucial infrastructure projects as part of Modi`s pledges to revive the economy after storming to power last May – but rivals say the move will hurt millions of farmers.
The unpopular bill has given a boost to the ailing Congress party, which has been struggling to recover its image after a series of electoral defeats since its humiliating loss in last year`s national polls.
Rahul`s mother Sonia Gandhi, who is Congress president, has led several protests tapping into the growing anger.
But her son`s decision in February to go on a two-month sabbatical from politics sparked widespread criticism about his lacklustre leadership and speculation about his future.
Congress has pulled out all the stops to galvanise support in New Delhi for the mass protest, which is being seen as a springboard for the 44-year-old to relaunch himself as a strong party vice president.
The proposed bill exempts projects related to defence, rural housing and power, along with industrial corridors, from the requirement that 80 percent of the affected landowners must agree to a sale.
It also does away with the need for a “social impact assessment” to find out how many people would be affected by the loss of land.
Modi`s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) says these rules are restrictive and deter the investment needed to fuel India`s growth.
Rahul Gandhi — along with his mother and senior party members — will address more than 100,000 farmers from across the country at the rally just a day before the reopening of parliament, when the government is expected to reintroduce its bill.”(The) rally would be a historic rally… we want to expose this BJP government for the way farmers have been duped,” Sachin Pilot, a Congress member and close ally, said Saturday.
Rahul Gandhi met with farmer groups at his plush Lutyen`s bungalow ahead of Sunday`s protest, making his first public appearance on Saturday since returning last week on Thursday.
The scion of the Gandhi family, whose father, grandmother and great-grandfather were all prime ministers, discussed the impact the new law will have on the farmers, many of whom have seen their crops devastated by unseasonal rains this year.
The government has defended the changes as a catalyst for growth — from building new cities and factories to more roads and industrial corridors.
But its attempts so far to push the Land Acquisition Bill through parliament have been stonewalled by a united opposition, which controls the upper house.
While the government has issued a temporary order making it easier to buy land for projects, the changes need approval in the parliamentary session starting Monday to be made permanent.
Modi recently used his monthly radio show to appeal to farmers not to oppose the bill, repeatedly assuring them that acquiring their land would be a “last resort”.