Rahul Gandhi arrested over land conflict

NEW DELHI Thu May 12, 2011 2:30pm IST

Rahul Gandhi (R), Member of Parliament and son of ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, gestures to a villager during his visit to Parsaul village after Saturday's clash between farmers and police in Gautam Buddha Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh May 11, 2011. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma

Rahul Gandhi (R), Member of Parliament and son of ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi, gestures to a villager during his visit to Parsaul village after Saturday's clash between farmers and police in Gautam Buddha Nagar district of Uttar Pradesh May 11, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Parivartan Sharma

Related Topics

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Rahul Gandhi, the heir-apparent of Congress party, was briefly arrested after he joined farmers protesting against land being taken over for a $2 billion highway, underscoring how land disputes are emerging as a political issue.

Gandhi, seen as a prime minister-in-waiting, was held late Wednesday for two hours under preventive detention laws in Uttar Pradesh before being bailed and escorted by police to New Delhi, sparking off more protests.

Gandhi had abandoned his security detail and rode pillion on a motorcycle to Bhatta Parsaul village, where a week-long agitation against the highway Agra has intensified after police shot dead two protesters.

NDTV reported on its website that farmers were paid a little over 800 rupees ($18) per square metre for the land on which six townships are to be built alongside the highway. That same land was sold to developers for 3,200 rupees a square metre and resold as residential plots for 14,000 rupees a square metre.

"I feel ashamed to call myself Indian after seeing what has happened here. The (state) government here has unleashed atrocities on its own people," Gandhi said at the protest site.

Congress supporters across cities in Uttar Pradesh held demonstrations on Thursday against Gandhi's arrest and scores were detained as they blocked roads and railway lines, underscoring how the issue could spiral.

Ahead of a 2014 general election, the left-of-centre Congress is increasingly taking the side of farmers and others whose lands have been taken over for the highways, utilities and factories needed to power India's near 9 percent growth.

Gandhi has set his sights on resurrecting Congress in time for state polls next year, pitting him against Mayawati, the fiery chief minister.

A POLITICAL FOOTBALL

Congress hopes to tap into farmers' discontent, intensified by rising income inequalities between cities and villages, to strengthen Congress and shed its dependence on fickle allies to rule in New Delhi.

Land conflicts have the potential of unseating governments, especially since colonial era laws allow the state to take over land without compensation to owners.

A 34-year-old Communist rule in West Bengal state looks set to end as voters punish it for a badly implemented plan to seize land to rapidly industrialise the state.

"Land has been the most contentious issues without a resolution. As something that can be exploited for political gains, land presents an opportunity," said Abheek Baruah, chief economist at HDFC Bank.

Uttar Pradesh is key to controlling power in New Delhi, as it is India's most populous state, sending the largest block of lawmakers to parliament, but Congress is a minor player there.

"They (Congress) are seeking an opportunity to re-enter Uttar Pradesh.But I don't see any great resurgence there (and) they are feeling desperate," said Sudha Pai, professor of politics at New Delhi's Jawaharlal Nehru University.

The protests in Uttar Pradesh are the latest in a series across India over attempts to acquire land for industry, which have delayed multi-billion dollar investment plans by firms like ArcelorMittal and Tata Steel.

Such protests forced the government in August to scrap Vedanta Resources' plans to mine bauxite from land held sacred by indigenous people in Orissa.

Gandhi had visited Orissa days after the project was killed, hailing the victory for the protesters and promising them he would be their voice in the corridors of power in New Delhi.

(Additional reporting Alka Pande in LUCKNOW; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

FILED UNDER:
Comments (0)
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Taliban Attacks

Taliban Attacks

Taliban bombs hit Afghan army vehicles, killing at least seven.  Full Article 

Fighting IS

Fighting IS

Australian aircraft to support U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq - PM.  Full Article | Related Story 

Monsoon Ends

Monsoon Ends

India's 2014 monsoon ends with double-digit rain deficit   Full Article 

Microsoft OS

Microsoft OS

Microsoft names next operating system 'Windows 10'  Full Article 

Hong Kong Protests

Hong Kong Protests

Hong Kong protests approach potential National Day flashpoint.  Full Article 

Ebola in U.S.

Ebola in U.S.

Traveler from Liberia is first Ebola patient diagnosed in U.S  Full Article 

Asian Games 2014

Asian Games 2014

Doping takes spotlight from teenage champs at Asian Games  Full Article 

U.S.-Afghan Pact

U.S.-Afghan Pact

U.S. signs pact to keep troops in Afghanistan past 2014  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage