Even after Nitish Kumar categorically stated that the recommendations of the D Bandyopadhyaya Commission on land reforms in Bihar will not be implemented, the issue of giving rights to sharecroppers has snowballed into a major controversy. Arguments in its favour or against apart, there is also enough hint of an incoherence in the stands being taken by centrist political parties and their leaders in respect to land reforms or at least those provision which propose to bestow some rights on share-croppers.
The issue of giving rights to sharecroppers had not caught the imagination of Lalu Prasad Yadav or Ram Vilas Paswan till the by-polls to the 18 Assembly seats which went horribly for the ruling NDA comprising the Janata Dal (U) and the BJP.
Lalu Prasad Yadav latched on it when it became apparent that the NDA had lost because of strong opposition to the government’s bid to implement the recommendations of the Bandyopadhyaya Commission.
The NDA had lost eight Assembly seats to the Congress, RJD and LJP in the by-polls which were held after the Bandhopadhyay Commission report was published. Political analyst had cited fear among land owning castes such as the bhumihars, rajputs, kurmis, yadavs and koeris over dilution of rights on land as one of the main reasons for the NDA’s dismal performance.
Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is also to be blamed for the controversy which refuses to die down as he took nearly one month to clear doubts over the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. “Let me clarify that nobody is going to lose his rights over land and the government has no intention to enact a new law to protect sharecroppers,” Kumar had said adding “when land reforms could not be implemented in West Bengal, how could it be done in Bihar.”
The Chief Minister accused RJD chief Lalu Prasad of spreading panic among upper caste villagers by calling them up and telling them “Nitishwa tum logon ka khet chheen lega. Is baar nahin to 2010 chunao ke baad to jarur chheen lega. (Nitish will deprive you of your land. If not now, then definitely after the 2010 Assembly elections).”
Lalu Prasad Yadav in his indomitable style told a gathering of upper caste bhumihars on the occasion of the 122nd birth anniversary of Bihar’s first chief minister Sri Krishna Singh that Nitish wanted to become the “Jyoti Basu of Bihar.” He will surely implement the recommendations if voted to power again, thundered Lalu. Accusing Nitish Kumar of wavering on the proposed bataidari bill and not making his views clear on the issue, Yadav also stated that the bataidari system was already an accepted practice in Bihar’s agricultural economy and sharecroppers were benefiting more from it than the landowners.
Even as Lalu Prasad Yadav went the whole hog to woo the upper castes, a member of the Nitish Kumar Cabinet, Chedi Paswan has demanded that both RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav and LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan to clarify their stand on this contentious issue.
Can they, having claimed for years to be champions of the poor say that the bataidars have to be left at the mercy of the landlords for all time to come, he asked. He also pointed out that though the Act was framed in 1985 during the Congress regime it was not implemented either by the Congress or the Lalu-Rabri Devi regimes.
On the other hand CPI (ML) supremo Dipankar Bhattacharya slammed the Nitish government for not implementing the recommendations of the Commission’s report. “It is shocking that the same government which set up the Commission has now unceremoniously junked the Commission’s report after sleeping over it for more than a year. Any government that shies away from this key agenda actually perpetuates social injustice, administrative anarchy and economic stagnation,” he warned.
Bhattacharya while promising to make land reforms a major poll agenda in the forthcoming Assembly polls said his party would conduct an independent survey of sharecroppers as well as their registration and launch an agitation with a call to “implement or quit” from November 24, also the last day of Nitish Kumar’s fourth year of rule in the state.
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister’s “no” to land reforms has also enraged the architect of land reforms in West Bengal so much that D Bandyopadhyaya reportedly slammed Nitish Kumar for passing judgement on land reforms in West Bengal. “Nitish knows nothing. Operation Barga was a big success and 1.3 million acres were taken over in West Bengal,” he said in response to Kumar’s observation that the experiment had failed in West Bengal.
The retired bureaucrat and an expert on land reforms also said “it is Kumar’s discretion, of course, to implement it (the report) or throw it out. I worked like a donkey for two years – without money – and the state government did not even show the minimum courtesy of acknowledging the receipt of my report.”
But for now, the recommendations by Bandyopadhyaya have been effectively consigned to the flames.