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Change in the heartland

Land and law and order,rather than identity,are the big political issues in UP. Both demand structural fixes.

Written by Sudha Pai |
July 11, 2011 2:04:46 am

In contrast to the 1990s,when age-old matters of identity drove electoral politics,it appears that development-related issues such as land acquisition and law and order will play a critical role in the contentious campaign for the UP elections due next year. While this can be attributed to the BSP’s “sarvajan” agenda,it also signals the impact of the market economy and the need to attract private investment,which has been late in coming to the Hindi heartland states. The ruling BSP and the Congress are presently in sharp confrontation over these issues. The SP and BJP,following their poor performance in the 2007 assembly elections,have not been able to rebuild their organisation and base. For the Congress,improving its position in UP by building on its success in the 2009 national elections is imperative not only for the 2012 assembly election; but also for the national elections due in 2014.

Consequently,while both issues,particularly land acquisition,are important in many states,in UP they have become highly politicised. This is evident from Rahul Gandhi’s May visit to to Bhatta-Parsaul,and subsequent statements denouncing the BSP government. These two villages in Greater Noida witnessed farmers’ movements demanding higher compensation for land acquisition along the Yamuna Expressway. A second round of confrontation has now begun,and Gandhi hopes to win the farmers’ support by organising padyatras and kisan mahapanchyats in the region and listening to their grievances. The BSP and other opposition parties have described the yatra as a stunt,with the former threatening to stall Parliament if the pending land acquisition bill is not enacted in the coming session.

While political parties should reach out to farmers to ensure fairplay in land acquisition,unfortunately no government or party has given attention to the larger question involved,of the manner in which the land available in Greater Noida should be used — without which the problems faced by farmers cannot be resolved. Greater Noida was meant to be an industrial corridor close to the NCR,which,since the early 1990s when the Greater Noida Industrial Authority was established,has attracted industries and SEZs. On paper,Greater Noida also has progressive land acquisition and compensation laws based on negotiations with the farmers in the late 1990s. Moreover,after the resistance along the Yamuna Expressway in 2010 the state government announced more compensation benefits and more recently,introduced changes to uphold farmers’ interests. However,implementation by the same authority has been highly questionable. As the Supreme Court judgments on April 15 and July 6 this year,regarding land acquisition in villages Mayora and Shahberi point out,land acquired for industrial purposes was handed over to builders under relaxed conditions,low compensation paid to farmers and the urgency clause misused,which has affected both middle-class buyers of flats and farmers. This indicates a nexus between builders,political leaders and the authority. Based on the experience in Greater Noida and elsewhere,there is urgent need for the Congress as a national ruling party to build consensus on issues of land use,process of acquisition and compensation and enact a suitable land acquisition law.

The issue of law and order has become equally contentious with opposition parties demanding Mayawati’s resignation for what they describe as the collapse of law and order. An important reason is that BSP-led governments in the 1990s/2000s claimed to have substantially brought down crime and removed the criminal mafia. Moreover,during the campaign for the 2007 assembly election,law and order (particularly the Nithari killings) was one of the issues on which the BSP defeated the SP. While rapes and murders take place in many states,even in the national capital,what has agitated opposition parties is that over six cases of rapes and murders of minor girls took place within a span of 10 days in late June,and in many cases the victims were Dalits. In Lakhimpur a 14-year-old girl was found hanging from a tree in a police-station compound; in Kanauj a minor girl was stabbed in the eyes allegedly by two youths when she resisted a rape attempt,and another teenager was sexually assaulted at gunpoint in Basti. The deputy CMO of the state,himself accused of murder and appropriating funds,was found dead within jail premises. Equally disturbing are reports that in many cases,the police tried to evade registering a formal complaint.

While there is little doubt that the BSP government needs to improve the law and order situation and protect its citizens,at the same time,two issues need to be kept in mind. The installation of a government headed by a Dalit chief minister cannot assure protection to Dalits as long as traditional,caste-based,exploitative relationships remain strong,particularly at the village level. UP is a conservative society and assertion by Dalits has,in many instances,brought swift retribution leading to a rising graph of crimes against Dalits. Second,while Mayawati has taken swift action against policemen and administrators guilty of not performing their duty,police reforms are urgently required in all states,including UP,to remove political interference,improve efficiency,and sensitise them towards disadvantaged groups that require greater protection. Neither state governments nor political parties,quick to condemn acts of violence when they happen and make political capital,have taken any steps to initiate such reforms.

The political events of the last few months indicate that after a long period,development and governance issues have come to occupy a central position in UP politics. While this could be attributed to the impact of liberalisation,it does not mean that politics based on caste and communal identity has lost salience. It is too early to say whether this shift will de-politicise identity politics. But new political patterns are discernible in UP which are markedly different from those of the 1990s and will possibly shape politics in the state in the future.

The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies,and rector,at Jawaharlal Nehru University,Delhi

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