The war of words between the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government and a united opposition is set to escalate next week when the ruling alliance makes yet another attempt to push through the controversial land acquisition bill in Parliament.

Realising that the land bill is a hot political potato, the ruling alliance had taken a conscious decision to place it before Parliament only after the completion of all financial business this week so that it could keep the opposition in good humour till the passage of the Finance Bill.

As a result of this tact, the second half of the budget session has been fairly smooth thus far.

But the session is expected to hot up again as the government has listed the Goods and Services Tax Bill and the Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill on curbing black money along with the land bill for passage after the completion of the financial business.

While the other two bills are expected to go through, the passage of the land bill will prove to be a real challenge for the NDA government’s floor managers. Despite their many attempts, they have been unsuccessful in creating fissures in the opposition ranks to ensure a vote in their favour, especially in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling alliance is in a minority.

Sticking to its guns

Knowing that they have a tough task at hand, the ruling alliance is working on various strategies to ensure the defeat of the land bill in the Rajya Sabha after its clearance in the lower house. This will make it possible for the Modi government to convene a joint session of Parliament for the passage of the bill. According to rules, a joint session can be called if a bill has been passed by one House and rejected by the other. Alternatively, it can also be convened if a Bill is passed by one House and is kept pending in the other house for six months.

Although NDA ministers have not been speaking publicly about a joint session, BJP insiders maintain that the government may have no choice but to take this route given how the numbers are stacked against it in the Rajya Sabha. There is a large section in the BJP and its allies which would like the government to go slow on the land bill now when the agrarian crisis and farmer suicides have pushed the government on the defensive. “It is difficult to defend this bill before farmers at a time when they are in distress after unseasonal rains damaged their crops, “remarked a senior BJP leader. “It will be political suicide to insist on the bill at this stage.”

However, the hardliners in the party, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Parliamentary Affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu, are insisting that that the government should not back off. “As far as the land bill is concerned, we are on a firm wicket,” Naidu remarked. “We will go ahead with it because we believe it is in the interests of farmers. Moreover, it will also boost rural infrastructure.”

In an effort to hardsell the land bill, the BJP have been at pains to deny any link between the legislation and the agrarian crisis. They reel out facts and figures to underline that the crisis is not a new phenomenon and that more farmers had been pushed to take their lives when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance was in power.

Opportunity for political revival

With the government refusing to back off, the opposition is gearing up for another round of battle next week. It had succeeded in stalling the land bill in the first half of the budget session, forcing the ruling alliance to repromulgate the land acquisition ordinance. In fact, the opposition has dug in its heels further as it realises that it has got an emotive issue on which it can launch a political battle against the Modi government by dubbing it as “anti farmer and pro-corporate”.

The opposition is insisting on the restoration of the consent clause and the provision for a social impact assessment, which were removed from the original bill passed by the UPA government. The NDA government has rejected this demand.

While the Parliament is expected to witness fireworks next week, the Congress and other political parties have already launched a campaign against the government outside. The Congress, in particular, is using the land bill to revive its political fortunes. Taking ownership of this issue, its vice-president Rahul Gandhi first addressed a rally slamming the government for bringing an anti-farmer bill and then followed it up by making a combative intervention on the agrarian crisis in the Lok Sabha. He is currently touring the areas which have been worst affected by the unseasonal rains in his attempt to establish his “pro-poor” credentials.