Sensing an opportunity to reach out to farmers, Congress has decided to take on the government in a big way against the land ordinance and has constituted a three-member group to fine-tune its strategy on the issue.The party will also form a Parliament Strategy group to take up the issue more effectively in Parliament when the Budget session begins.Former Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh, former Commerce Minister Anand Sharma and former Food Minister K V Thomas are members of the high-power group, which will try to reconcile the interests of various stakeholders while formulating the blueprint of Congress protest plan. The three leaders met Congress President Sonia Gandhi yesterday to brief her on the deliberations held so far on the issue and on how the party has to go take among people.The group has already met and discussed the issue a number of times. “It has many dimensions. We will also consult Congress Chief Ministers. This issue requires deeper examination. We have to also carry other political parties with us on the issue. We will confront the government with a consensus among the Opposition,” a senior party functionary said on the condition of anonymity. The Land Acquisition Act, a landmark legislation of UPA- II, was the brainchild of Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and the party is accusing the Narendra Modi government of seeking to take the ‘heart and soul’ out of the legislation through this Ordinance.The Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, had on December 29 last year decided to amend the Act to bring under its purview 13 central legislations, including those relating to defence and national security, to provide higher compensation and rehabilitation and resettlement benefits to farmers whose land is being acquired.Changes were made in consent clause and some other provisions, which led to a barrage of criticism from the Opposition. Amid the combined attack of opposition parties on the issue, three senior Union Ministers– Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Law Minister D V Sadananda Gowda and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari met the President to explain the urgency in promulgating the ordinance on Land Acquisition before he gave his nod to it. Congress sees an opportunity in this to paint the government as “anti-farmer” and rally around other parties especially those from the Left and socialist background.The Rs 52,000 crore loan waiver before 2009 by the Congress-led UPA I government was considered a political masterstroke and is believed to have played a key role in the formation of UPA II government. There is also a view that the UPA II saw an increasing tilt towards corporates and the party lost out on its pro-poor and ‘Aam Aadmi’ image in the din of development. Ever since Congress lost power in 2014 Lok Sabha polls, which saw its tally plummeting from 206 in 2009 to a mere 44, the party under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi has tried to reach out to the grassroots.At a meeting of party general secretaries called by AICC General Secretary (Organisation) Janardan Dwivedi on January 5, it was decided that the party will hold demonstrations in all states against the land bill and organise a ‘Chetna Abhiyan’ (awareness campaign) among farmers by February 15 informing them of the “dangers” of the Ordinance on the land bill. Ramesh had then briefed the party leaders on salient features of the Ordinance and also how to tell the farmers that doing away with the consent clause will have adverse affect on them in the long run. Besides the party has also decided to target the government on fuel prices, saying that benefits of fall in international crude prices are not being passed on to consumers. The party will also take up the issue of hardships being faced by farmers due to black-marketing of urea fertiliser.The agitational programmes across all states have been chalked out ahead of the Budget session and the party plans to reach out to parties like Left, JDU, RJD, SP, Trinamool Congress and others to make common cause with them on the floor of the House against the Ordinance. The AICC has made it clear that it will take an aggressive stance in the coming days on issues like land ordinance, hike of excise duty on petrol and diesel and creation of NITI Aayog and this will be visible both in streets as well in both Houses of Parliament.AICC has accused the government of bringing the ordinance to help “vested interests” and has pointed out that the Land Acquisition bill was finalised by a Parliamentary Committee headed by BJP leader Sumitra Mahajan, now the Lok Sabha Speaker. Congress leaders have been insisting that President Pranab Mukherjee’s action of seeking clarifications from the government on the ordinance was “a very serious thing”. The party has said it would challenge the ordinance at every forum and raise the issue both inside and outside Parliament.
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