Friday, April 24, 2015

My Response to Ashok Malik's Attempt to Change the Discourse on the Land Bill.

I happened to read this article, titled 'Modi Vs the Gandhis on Land Reforms' by Ashok Malik, published on NDTV. Firsly, I noticed the author’s attempt to reduce the struggle against the so called land reforms (!) to something that is a ‘Modi vs. the Gandhis’ issue. Ashok Malik is also following the Govt line of ignoring the farmers who are the stakeholders in this issue! That apart, some of the points raised by Mr. Malik require a detailed response, which I have attempted in this post:

1. The article suggests that it is unusual for a government to adopt “defining, risk-taking moments” in the first year of its existence.

          Yes, why did Modi take such a step linking his Govt's credibility and safety, with so much urgency? Perhaps Mr. Malik could have enlightened his readers about the urgency involved. Is there any data on how many investment proposals are pending for want of land? CAG has already found that 50% of SEZ land remain unused. Why not denotify that land and issue to industrialists who are waiting for land to set up their 'Make in India' ventures? Why no effort was made to arrive at a political consensus before hurriedly issuing an Ordinance that sought to undo a law brought in recently through near consensus? There is no logic evident, unless it can be assumed that Mr. Modi has made himself duty bound, to some interests, to bring such a law at the earliest.

2.       Mr. Malik suggests that one of the reasons could be, Modi genuinely believing that without such a land acquisition law, his Gujarat model cannot be replicated throughout the country!

I agree with Mr. Malik on this. The Gujarat model was largely based on forcible ouster of farmers from their lands and then gifting those lands to the Adanis, Ambanis, and Tatas for a song! However, just like Modi's genuine belief, there are other Indians who consider Modi's Gujarat story was nothing but a lot of noise and undue benefits to certain cronies. Those Indians have a right to oppose any move that seeks to replicate Modi's Gujarat model on entire India. 

3.       Next, Mr. Malik suggests that some people in BJP ‘honestly’ feel that Rahul Gandhi does not understand the details and his “near glorification of agriculture” is not based on reality. To prove his point, the author says nearly half of the 60% whom Rahul Gandhi referred to as working in agriculture sector, do not own any land.

Rahul Gandhi cannot shape his thoughts or actions based on what those 'some in the BJP' and Mr. Malik may think. There are people in BJP who honestly think those who did not vote for Modi must be dispatched to Pakistan and Ganesha’s head was an outcome of plastic surgery. Mr. Malik cannot expect all others to follow such honest beliefs.  As for Mr. Malik’s statement about 'half this number' do not owning any land, he must know they are even more vulnerable to destruction of farming and farmlands. This half also depend on agriculture for their livelihood. When the agricultural land is acquired these agricultural labourers lose their livelihood and are forced to move into the slums of cities. Landowners at least get compensation for the taken land. So, the landless labourers are equal stakeholders in the issue.

4.       Next, Mr. Malik cited ‘various surveys’ having suggested that farmers and agricultural workers wanting to move out of farming, as another point, making the proposed changes in the Ordinance as something that help the farmers and agricultural workers in realizing their aspirations!

If you ask the same question to people engaged in most professions, you will get similar answers suggesting a disillusionment with current profession. Surveys suggesting the aspiration of farmers and agricultural labourers to get out of the farming is clearly being misused here. None of the surveys asked them if they were willing to be ousted by the Govt, from their lands. Having served as a solider, I know a large proportion of soldiers (barring some communities, and perhaps senior officers) do not want their children to become soldiers, but enter some other aspirations professions. Will Mr. Malik and Modi suggest closing down defense forces, to help those aspirations?   Even if all of the current stakeholders in agriculture want to leave the sector, can India afford to give up agriculture as an activity? Who will feed Indians?

5.       Next, it was suggested that agricultural income was marginal to 56 % of small farmers - those with less than 100 square meters of farmland- perhaps to show how insignificant was the agricultural industry to India’s prosperity!

Shall we bring in measures to ensure that agriculture is turned into a remunerative profession, or shall we help in driving these marginal farmers away into further destitution? Even if we accept the contention that nearly 3/4th of those stakeholders in farming want to get out, then why Modi Govt is insisting on doing away with their consent? They must be very much willing to part with their land, accept the compensation, and move on to other prosperous / aspirational activities!

Even if we accept agricultural income was marginal to households, can we suggest agriculture is marginal to Indian interests? Should we be striving to make agriculture and food production more remunerative, or should be abolish the same through conversion of lands and farmer suicides?

7.       Mr. Malik then ventures into guessing why Modi is doing what he is doing. He says, instead of waiting for 2018 when the elections will be closer, Modi has to complete the process early and hope to escape the eventual wrath of voters. 
          That is a genuine political argument. However, when you reduce the issue to a Modi vs. the Gandhis issue, and not of something concerning 60% of Indians, why should Modi worry about re-elections, Mr. Malik? Are you not contradicting yourself, by making this point?

8.       Mr. Malik then informs us about the existence of a “frustration with the serial stonewalling in the Rajya Sabha.”

Why should there be any frustration in BJP against the serial stonewalling? Weren't they experts in stonewalling legislations, which they are now bus trying to get passed? Did Ashok Malik consider how BJP ensured that the “unfinished business of UPA years” like “Insurance, GST, even Coal” remained unfinished?

9.       Finally comes the real purpose of the article- a veiled threat of passing the Bill in a joint session of the Parliament, to show the opposition their real place and limitations!

Well, the ability to continue reissuing ordinances or getting the Bill passed in a joint sessions should not change a bad law into a good law. The nation is aware of the “legislative weakness” of Congress, and the Congress cannot give up its opposition to a change in the law, which (unlike what Mr. Malik's innuendo suggests) the party considers, genuinely, as against the interests of the nation and over 60% of its people.

10.     Finally, Mr. Malik (like all other spokespersons for Modi and Land Bill) failed to explain the urgency of this amendment. 

For an industry to set up their venture on a remote barren land will slightly increase their upfront cost and reduce their profit share, slightly. For a farmer or a labourer to be ousted from their land/area is tantamount to denying them the right to earn livelihood. Removal of SIA and consent in land acquisitions may be attractive to the ‘take-no-prisoners’ dictators, but not for a democratic country. 

For the sustainability of growth and prospecrity of the nation, and the survival of its citizens, preserving and developing agriculture is of prime importance. Mr. Malik’s clever attempt to reduce the issue to something of a political tussle between Modi and Gandhis must be resisted. The real stakeholders in this fight against the draconian provisions of the Ordinance and Bill are each and every Indian who continue to eat food!

           Before I conclude, when Malik refers to Modi "preparing for a take-no-prisoners outcome," is he referring to those infamous Gujarat fake encounters that ensured no prisoners were taken? If yes, it is a matter of concern!