Opposition homes in to isolate BSP in farmers’ agitation

By Brij Khandelwal, IANS,

Agra/Mathura/Aligarh : With farmers rejecting the enhanced compensation offered by the Uttar Pradesh government in lieu of the land acquired for the Noida-Agra Yamuna Expressway, the stage is set for a high pitched political drama as opposition parties work towards turning the sentiment against the ruling BSP in their favour.

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Samajwadi Party (SP) leaders, headed by former minister Ramji Lal Suman, his brother Narayan Singh as well as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) Agra MP Ramshankar Katheria are sitting on ‘dharna’ at Agra’s Etmadpur sub-division, about 20 km from the city of the Taj.

Local Congress leaders are also trying to gain a foothold in the belt, but without much success. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), the latest entrant on the scene, has added fuel to the raging political fire by giving an ultimatum to the government to accept the farmers’ demand or face statewide protests after Aug 23.

“We will fight to the finish for the rights of the farmers. The state government is playing into the hands of the colonisers and land grabbers,” Suman said.

BJP’s Katheria said state Chief Minister Mayawati wanted to benefit a particular company and had tried to snatch their means of livelihood. “Our party will fight for them.”

“The state government has been fooling the farming community. We are with them. The bugle for tough opposition to the ruling party in the state has been sounded and we will play our due role,” added Rashtriya Lok Dal’s Anil Choudhary.

The Communist and the Congress leaders have also announced their opposition to land acquisition proceedings without resolving the disputes and adequately compensating the farmers.

Contrary to the government’s claims of having struck a deal with the agitating farmers, the protesters returned full strength Wednesday with their leader Ram Babu Kathelia accusing the administration of subjecting him to physical torture while he was under arrest until Tuesday.

State Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar made a surprise appearance Wednesday evening at the Agra circuit house and started talks with a group of farmers. He later announced that the rate had been revised from Rs.446 to Rs.580 per sq metre and promised to give jobs to farmers who had lost all their land to the Jaypee group.

But the farmers’ struggle committee rejected the offer outright and demanded parity with Noida, plus withdrawal of TDS (tax deducted at source) as the amount was not an income but a compensation.

In Tappal town of Aligarh district, the epicentre of the agitation, the BKU leaders interacted with farmers and late in the evening assured them of full support.

Two farmers were killed Aug 14 in police firing as the protesters resisted the arrest of Ram Babu Kathelia. In the clash, a police constable was also killed.

Clashes continued and two government officials and half-a-dozen policemen were injured Tuesday in clashes with agitating farmers in Etmadpur.

The 165-km Yamuna Expressway, which is expected to reduce the driving time between New Delhi and Agra to just about 90 minutes, will pass through the districts of Gautam Buddha Nagar, Aligarh, Mahamaya Nagar (Hathras) and Mathura and involves acquisition of land in as many as 115 villages.

The Jaypee group plans five townships along the expressway for which the Uttar Pradesh government is acquiring 2,500 hectares of land.

“The expressway is just an excuse, the real game is real estate profits. Recently, the group sold a plot in Greater Noida for Rs.39,000 per sq metre. The latest trend is that with support from your political patrons you start buying land for peanuts and then sell it for exorbitant profits, bring in an IPO, raise money from the market, secure loans from public financial institutions, spur real estate boom, and inflate your coffers,” green activist Ravi Singh told IANS.

“This agitation is all about exposing the murky goings on in Lucknow’s political corridors,” he added.

According to agricultural economics professor B.B. Barik, farmers in the prosperous western Uttar Pradesh belt have seen through this game and are now playing their cards intelligently. They would stand to gain more if they sold off their land independently to the highest bidders, he added.