Before the disastrous results in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls brought a temporary halt to it early this summer, it was Rahul Gandhi who was trying to position himself as the saviour of the farmer who did not want to give up his land for development. But, Mamata Banerjee has since hijacked the issue from him through some low-key but catchy public contact programme - throwing in a few jingles on FM radio and youthful Facebook interactions - across the plains of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and the hilly Himachal Pradesh.
In recent weeks, it has been impossible to miss a series of well-crafted Trinamool Congress ads on FM channels squarely addressing the unresolved issue of land acquisition.
It might not seem at first a very serious threat. Seeking to build on the “credibility” the TMC garnered from the Singur and Nandigram agitations, they practically set themselves up in the ads as the first point of grievance redress for anyone with an issue regarding the land being acquired.
When Mamata comes to meet the Prime Minister next week, it is she who would be calling the shots on the latest draft of the Land Acquisition Bill that the crisis-ridden Centre so desperately wants to push through this session of Parliament. Jairam-authored ‘Please-Mamata’ redefinition of land acquisition-to be allowed only for public-private-partnership projects, only meant for infrastructure and social development and 80 per cent acquisition to be done by the industry at market rates or the escape clause, allowing state governments to put the onus of land acquisition squarely on the industry/project handlers, may not please Mamata.
Didi’s game-plan around the volatile land acquisition issue would reveal why she is not only set to derail the UPA’s desperate bid to revive the economy, but also ready to hijack the Congress’ best-known political prop. She wants to be known and recognised as the messiah of the masses, the ultimate champion of the “aam admi”, a senior leader of her party admits. The plank Rahul sought to secure for himself, therefore, is under serious threat of erosion on two different sources. The first one is from Mamata’s very Bengali-accented party, the other from the slowing economy. Both have tied the Congress’ hand like never before, adding to this the seasonal scam reports and the mis-governance charge; it appears to be a dead end.