A new law for better compensation to farmers will be introduced, the government announced Thursday, as the politics over land sharpened with Congress workers clashing with police in Uttar Pradesh, Chief Minister Mayawati slamming the opposition and the BJP too jumping into the fray.
A day after Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi was arrested and subsequently released for staging dramatic a sit-in in support of farmers in Bhatta-Parsaul village in Greater Noida, the epicentre of protests for higher compensation for land acquired for a highways project, the volatile issue of compensation for farmland gained centrestage.
As the debate intensified and unrest continued, Home Minister P. Chidambaram stepped in to promise a new land acquisition law for better compensation and rehabilitation to farmers in the next session of parliament in July.
"We must have a new land acquisition act. Consensus building has taken some time," the minister told reporters.
It was almost as if the central government was responding directly to Mayawati's allegations.
Faced with protests by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at its western border in Ghaziabad and furious Congress workers taking to the streets over Rahul Gandhi's arrest, Mayawati accused opposition parties of instigating farmers.
The farmers are agitating for higher compensation for land acquired for the 156-km Yamuna Expressway, linking New Delhi with Agra, a dream project of the chief minister.
With Rahul Gandhi seizing the initiative by staging a daylong sit-in at Bhatta-Parsaul over the emotive issue, after sneaking into the area riding pillion on a motorcycle, Mayawati sought to regain her edge. The issue has led to four people being killed in clashes.
Calling him a "bechara" (helpless) and a "yuvraj" (crown prince) who was engaging in "dramabazi" (theatrics), who could do nothing over the delays by the central government in passing an amended land acquisition bill, she lashed out: "It seems this helpless individual's writ is not running within his own party."
Uttar Pradesh, she said, had evolved its own land acquisition policy because of delays by the central government.
The chief minister also denied that the land of farmers in Bhatta-Parsaul was being acquired for the Yamuna Expressway. "That particular land had been acquired in 2009 for general development by the Greater Noida authority against which all the compensation was duly paid to the farmers as per the terms of our own acquisition policy."
A clearly piqued Mayawati also hit out at Congress president Sonia Gandhi for turning a blind eye to what she termed "inadequate compensation" paid to farmers in her own parliamentary constituency Rae Bareli, where agricultural land was acquired for a rail coach factory.
On the streets across several places in the state, hundreds of Congress activists, including state party chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi, were detained as they blockaded key roads as well as railway tracks.
The reports came from Sitapur, Banda, Mainpuri, Rae Bareli and Varanasi, as well as places like Kanpur, Mathura and Agra.
Congress leaders were quick to seize on the moment. Digvijay Singh, who was with Rahul Gandhi in Bhatta-Parsaul, demanded a judicial inquiry into "atrocities" on farmers.
"The inquiry should be called before the Uttar Pradesh government destroys all the evidence. We have ourselves seen heaps of dead bodies in the area," added Singh.
The BJP too hitched a ride on the political bandwagon.
"The struggle has been launched. It would have been better if the chief minister would have sat and talked to them," said senior BJP leader L.K. Advani.
Former BJP president Rajnath Singh and leaders Arun Jaitley and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi were among those arrested in Ghaziabad, where a daylong fast was staged as prohibitory orders were in force in Greater Noida.