India’s beleaguered opposition leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday led thousands of angry farmers in a protest in the capital against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s controversial overhaul of laws on land-buying.
Congress leader Gandhi accused Modi of being beholden to big business at the expense of struggling farmers during the protest in New Delhi against the government’s contentious land bill.
“The Modi government wants to weaken farmers to such an extent that they are rendered helpless and forced to sell their land,” Gandhi told the crowd.
Dressed in all white and waving Congress party flags, thousands of farmers poured into Delhi for the rally against the bill, which makes it easier for businesses to purchase farmland. Shortly before the protest was set to start, Modi launched a staunch defence of his government’s initiatives to help India’s tens of millions of poor, including lowering high inflation.
“This is a government for the poor. We are dedicated to the poor,” he told a meeting of lawmakers from his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) without referring to the land bill.
“Instead, anything we say is ripped and twisted by the opposition. Can’t we speak? Is this a crime (that) we are doing?”
After sweeping to power at last year’s elections promising to reform the economy, Modi says the bill is needed to improve the efficiency of land purchases for factories, industrial corridors and other development projects.
But anger has been mounting in rural areas over the move, seen as favouring big business and compounding the misery of debt-laden farmers, who flocked to Modi’s BJP at the national election. Many have already suffered extensive unseasonal rain damage to winter crops.