It may seem like the Land Acquisition Amendment Bill is a problem for the Bharatiya Janata Party only because of an obstructionist Opposition in the Rajya Sabha. Looked at this way, it is just a matter of floor management that will eventually get resolved by doling out Parliamentary concessions. But this misses the larger problem with the Land Bill: the people, particularly in rural areas, aren't quite sure what to make of the amendments either.

If it were simply a matter of obstructionist politics, the Congress and other parties wouldn't be able to show such a huge amount of support agitating against what they're calling an anti-farmer law. The BJP's own allies, like the Shiromani Akali Dal, wouldn't have passed resolutions against the law. And sections of the BJP's own membership wouldn't be expressing doubts about the bill.

Clearly, the Land Bill problem for the government is not just a purely political one. It's a perception issue. People have been convinced that the amended law, which removes consent clauses and social impact assessments for certain kinds of land and expands compensation to land acquired under 13 other laws, is anti-farmer.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi set out to correct this impression. On his fortnightly radio address, called Mann Ki Baat, Modi sought to speak directly to farmers about the new law. Modi said all the rumours being spread about the new law were false, and that his government had sought to change it because word from the states had been that the 2013 law didn't do enough.  He explained that the amended law would guarantee employment to sons of farmers.

The road ahead

And, in one paragraph of his address, the PM tried to explain why he got rid of the consent clause.
"What we're saying is that the consent process will force a kind of bureaucratic and authoritarian result. Imagine a village, and a road leading up to it. Now there's another village 5 km ahead of this one, and the road needs to reach there. The first village already has a road, but the villagers' lands are mostly ahead past the road, towards the next village. Tell me, will the people of the first village give up their lands so the road can be built further? Will they give their consent? What did the other village do wrong? Does it not deserve a road?"

Modi went on to explain that his alterations to the law ensured a "pragmatic" fix, allowing the government to make a decision about the needs of the people. "This change is not for industry, it's not for business, it has been made for the good for the people of the village, and for their children too," Modi said.

In effect, Modi was explaining the concept of eminent domain: the power of the state to appropriate property for public use, ostensibly because the government can make better long-term decisions about what the people may need than the landowners themselves.

Explaining this has been one of the most difficult efforts of the Modi government, because by its nature, taking away consent clauses obviously make it seem like landowner's rights are being eroded. This has led to some columnists saying things like land is a family heirloom that owners are only attached to because of its sentimental value and others who think politicians and companies should give up their land first, instead of farmers.

Modi's analogy, while succinct, isn't compressed enough to fit into a simple slogan and will be hard for the BJP to spread, even if they start to spend a lot of money on a propaganda blitz as has been reported. Rumours over the course of the Parliament session have also suggested that the BJP might be willing to bring back the consent clause. For now, though, the party appears to be attempting to attack the matter from the messaging front.