Updated: March 22, 2015 3:18:37 am
The opposition parties did the Prime Minister a favour last week with their silly ‘march’ to Rashtrapati Bhavan. As I watched the aged leaders totter up Raisina Hill under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, I understood again why India gave Narendra Modi a full mandate. Not only was the protest march a relic of an older kind of politics, so were the statements the opposition leaders made. They belong to another India, a rural idyll in which there were no cities, no slums and no possibility of farmers moving in their millions to cities in search of jobs. I remember that India well.
Then there was the hypocrisy. Sonia Gandhi declared war on the Modi government on the grounds that “we will never let our farmers down”. Excuse me? Remember Robert Vadra? Reactions on Twitter showed that I was not the only one who remembered that under her reign she allowed her son-in-law to do some serious insider trading while buying farmers’ land in Rajasthan and Haryana. He manipulated the market by buying acres of land just before its value went up and then profiting from this. Why did our former de facto prime minister not stop him? And can she explain why MGNREGA created only dole and ditches, not assets and jobs?
As she marched imperiously up Raisina Hill, I found myself dwelling on the politics of those who marched beside her. Among the 14 political parties who marched alongside were Marxists, socialists and members of Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress, whose economic ideas appear to be very, very flexible. I remembered that Mamata’s campaign to end 30 years of Marxist rule in West Bengal began with the protests she led against the Tata car factory in Singur. And the hypocrisy of both her and the Marxists she fought became painfully obvious. Was it not a CPI(M) government that tried to acquire land forcibly for the car factory? And has Ms Banerjee, as Chief Minister, not gone out of her way to lure investors to West Bengal?
As I mulled over these questions, I noticed Sharad Yadav waddling along in the vanguard and more hypocrisies unfolded. I remembered how his leader, Nitish Kumar, broke relations with the BJP on the grounds that he could not tolerate the ‘communal’ nature of Mr Modi. But he was perfectly happy to continue his alliance if L K Advani remained the supreme leader. He said this, forgetting conveniently that it was Advani who led that march to Ayodhya that ended in the eventual demolition of the Babri Masjid. Is that considered a ‘secular act’ by the now very united Janata Dal (United)?
Speaking of secularism, what puzzled me most was Sonia Gandhi’s assertion that changes in the land law would endanger secularism. This is not just bizarre, but very confusing. Our opposition leaders are truly stuck in a time warp. On the day they marched up Raisina Hill, The New York Times carried a story that said, ‘By 2050, India will need new urban infrastructure to house an additional 404 million people — a task comparable to building every city in the United States in just 35 years’.
That is the scale of the problem that we face. And how are we going to deal with it under a land law that ensures that it will take a minimum of three years before land can be acquired? This is without accounting for court cases and other difficulties that will arise when you try to get the consent of 80 per cent of the local population before acquiring land for a road, a city or a port.
The Prime Minister’s biggest mistake in the past eight months has been his reluctance to explain these things to the people of India in the way that he has explained social problems. Even now, what he needs to show is the sort of boldness and courage that he showed when he abolished that symbol of Nehruvian stagnation: the Planning Commission.
In making hesitant changes to a very bad law, he has given dormant, defunct opposition leaders a chance to lie repeatedly about how the changes are ‘anti-farmer’ and ‘pro-corporate’. This is as absurd as saying that building cities is anti-farmer. Is it not farmers and their children who have been moving to urban areas in millions because there are quite simply no jobs left in the agricultural sector? The whole horrible truth is that those who live on the pavements of Mumbai and Delhi make more money than they would if they stayed home in their villages. The reason why only Modi can speak of these things is because he has made it clear that he wants a new model of ‘vikas’. The opposition leaders who tottered up Raisina Hill lost because they failed to convince India’s voters that the old way was the right way.
Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh
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