OffStumped For All Things Right of Center, Bringing a Right of Centre Reality Check to Indian Politics, News Media Reporting and Opinion now in Hindi अब आप के लिये हिंदी मे.

So what is going on down south in Andhra Pradesh. What started with Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy on last Tuesday announcing the surrender of 618 acres of surplus land he possessed in his Kadpa district, saying his holding violated a land reform law, is now turning into a land redistribution madfest reminiscient of communist revolutions of last century. YSR told reporters that he had surrendered the surplus lands that his family held in excess of what was permitted under the Andhra Pradesh Land Reforms (Ceiling on Agricultural Holdings) Act, 1973. Reddy said others who possessed excess land should emulate his example and surrender the surplus lands to the government. 

Offstumped examines the underlying politics. 

Under the Land Reforms Act, which came into force Jan 1, 1975, the ceiling limit prescribed ranges from 10 acres to 54 acres per family, depending on the class and category of land. A beleaguered chief minister Y S Rajasekhara Reddy on Wednesday countered the opposition demand for his resignation over the land issue by charging that they forced adjournment of the house for the day in order to prevent discussion on the alleged irregularities by Margadarsi financiers headed by media baron Ch Ramoji Rao. Then came the twist when the Chief Minister declared that the extent of land he had surrendered was only 310.57 acres and not 618 acres as reported in the media. “It was a slip of tongue,” Dr. Reddy said amid jeers from TDP benches. 

The whole controversy is now set to have a ripple effect. The political witchhunt against those with so called “surplus” land is now set to affect politicians and high-networth individuals, several corporates too. The CPI(M) and BJP pressed in the Assembly on Friday the demand for Chief Minister Y. S. Rajasekhara Reddy’s resignation and his prosecution. The Chief Minister also did not provide details about Idupulapaya lands in his declaration before the Election Commission while contesting the elections and this amounted to suppression of information. He should be prosecuted on this count too. The Congress meanwhile desperate to salvage the situation has started spinning YSR’s act as “sacrifice” calling him the modern Vinoba Bhave. The Congress is now working on strategy to acquire and reclaim patta land bought by big farmers from the original beneficiaries. The government brought an ordinance on assigned land and is planning to introduce a Bill in the current Assembly session. 

The apparent explanation for the move – the need for more land in rural areas since the government has to implement the rehabilitation package for those who lost agricultural land in the proposed irrigation projects. Meanwhile, the government has issued notices to major business houses, including Satyam, GVK group, Sanghi group, Ramoji Film Studios etc., to submit their excess land within 15 days. Though a clear list has not been made public, according to sources, about 90 business houses who possess excess or patta land, were issued notices by Ranga Reddy district officials. About 8,000 acre of excess or assigned land is in the possession of individuals and corporates around Hyderabad, according to a rough official estimate. 

With slogans like “Poor man’s land in rich man’s hand” the rhetoric in Andhra is such that it carries one back in time to the Communist revolutions in China and Russia. But this should come as no surprise as the Congress since its coming back to power in 2004 after the Naidu, NDA debacle has been looking at land redistribution as the means to ending the naxalite movement. In all the empty political rhetoric and sloganeering it is clear that the politicians of the day have forgotten or not bothered to acknowledge why exactly the first round of land assignment was such a fiasco that large tracts of land made their way back into the hands of fewer individuals and corporate houses. This is largely due to the failure of beneficiaries to put the land to use. The lands were found to be barren and useless and required huge amounts for development resulting in the lands being sold. 

Offstumped Bottomline: It is stupefying that the Congress is seeking to turn the wheel back on history in Andhra and is repeating the same mistakes defying economics and common sense. It is unsurprising given how Manmohan Singh has morphed into a Communal Socialist. The politics of land redistribution in Andhra will be dictated by the underlying economics and many years of likely litigation. In the meantime however YSR’s position as Chief Minister is untenable for his blatant violation of the law and his three decade old hypocrisy in holding on to lands that he now discards for political convenience. Offstumped demands he resigns. 

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