With a united opposition resolutely insisting that it will not allow the passage of the amended Land Acquisition Bill in Parliament, the Modi government has initiated a dialogue with farmers’ groups who are protesting the dilution of the original legislation. And the ruling alliance has chosen Home Minister Rajnath Singh for this job.

The senior Bharatiya Janata Party leader’s appointment by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the point-person for these discussions has landed Rajnath Singh at the centre stage in the ongoing budget session of Parliament.

Like several other senior ministers, Rajnath Singh had thus far been virtually sidelined in the ruling dispensation. Modi and Rajnath Singh were virtually inseparable in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, but this changed after the formation of the NDA government.

He was quickly marginalised and his involvement in party and government affairs has at best been nominal since then. In this period, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has emerged as Modi’s confidant in the government and Amit Shah in the party.

Falling back on a 'kisan leader'

The BJP’s humiliating rout in the recent Delhi assembly elections appears to have altered the equations in the party and the government. Since the Delhi debacle was perceived as a personal defeat for Modi and Shah, the two leaders have become far more accommodating and conciliatory.

To begin with, the Prime Minister has realised that the government will find it extremely difficult to replace the other ordinances, including those on coal, insurance and mining, with Bills in the ongoing Budget Parliament session if it is unable to first break the logjam on the Land Acquisition Bill. Modi needs all hands on deck as the land Bill is also being opposed by NDA ally Shiv Sena and the Biju Janata Dal, which is usually supportive of the government on most issues.

Besides reaching out to opposition leaders like Samajwadi Party’s Mulayam Singh Yadav, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and Congress president Sonia Gandhi, Modi has turned to his senior colleague Rajnath Singh for help.

A senior party leader, Rajnath Singh can reach out to farmers’ groups as he has dealt with them in the past as agriculture minister. Indeed, the home minister has always projected himself as a kisan leader. It helps that he has served a stint as Uttar Pradesh chief minister and enjoys a good rapport with political rivals. At the same time, Rajnath Singh has close links with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leadership.

Several organisations affiliated to the RSS, like the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Ekta Parishad and Bharatiya Krishak Samaj, have joined the protests against the amended land Bill. In addition, social activist Anna Hazare and his former protégé, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, led a farmers’ protest at the Jantar Mantar on Tuesday. This is to be followed by a “Zameen Wapsi Andolan” by the Congress on Wednesday.

Dispelling 'popular perception'

The opposition has alleged that the NDA government has killed the spirit of the original Bill by doing away with the provision of seeking a social impact assessment and the requirement to get the prior consent of 70% of land owners before the acquisition of agricultural land.

Rajnath Singh has held a series of meetings with farmers’ groups, including representatives of the three Sangh affiliated groups, over the past few days to understand their concerns and to explain the government’s position.

“The perception has gained ground that the land Bill has been amended to favour corporates and is anti-farmer,” remarked a NDA minister. “Our first task is to dispel this perception and allay fears on this score.”

The RSS is also learnt to have told the government that it should be open to suggestions from its kisan organisations as it could face serious political ramifications. BJP leaders maintained that the government is willing to consider nominal changes in the land bill after it hears out the various farmer groups.

Getting allies on board

Meanwhile the BJP is putting its own house in order. While party president Amit Shah set up an eight-member committee to get suggestions from farmers, the land Bill was the subject of discussion at the BJP’s parliamentary party meeting on Tuesday morning, where the provisions of the amended legislation were explained to the MPs.

A similar meeting was held for NDA allies on Tuesday evening. Rural Development Minister Birender Singh explained the key provisions of the Bill at the meet, while Modi clarified that it was not “anti-farmer” as it was being made out to be. On the contrary, he underlined, the new legislation will actually help farmers as it provides for enhanced compensation for them.

While the government is engaged in hectic backroom discussions on the land Bill, it went ahead with the introduction of the legislation replacing the ordinance in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday despite stiff resistance from the opposition benches who accused the government of bypassing Parliament. The Congress contingent walked out in protest.

The government, however, adopted a flexible approach in the Rajya Sabha, where the opposition is in majority. Arun Jaitley assured the House that a detailed discussion will be held before the Bill is introduced in the Upper House.

The government has a tough task ahead. It has to end the face-off with the opposition at the earliest as the eight ordinances it promulgated have to be converted into Bills within six weeks of the commencement of the budget session of Parliament , failing which they will lapse.