Modi hits back at critics, ready to bend on land bill

New Delhi


Prime Minister Narendra Modi Friday said his government was willing to bend on the controversial land acquisition bill, and pledged not to allow any discrimination against any religion.

In a forceful speech in the Lok Sabha in which he took on the Congress, Modi also justified his foreign trips and called the previous government's flagship rural job guarantee scheme a "proof" of its failure.

Replying to the motion of thanks to the president's address in parliament, Modi said he was ready to bring about changes to the land bill that has been dubbed "anti-farmer" by critics.

"If there is anything against farmers in the bill, the government is ready to change it," the prime minister said, giving the first clear hint of a mindset change on an issue that has sparked widespread protests.

The prime minister dismissed criticism that his government, which took power in May last year, was biased against minorities.

"My government's only religion is 'India first', my government's only religious book is the Indian constitution, our only devotion is 'Bharat Bhakti' and our only prayer is 'welfare of all'," Modi said to thunderous thumping of the desks by BJP MPs and allies.

Parliament's winter session was held up for days following opposition protests against controversial remarks by groups linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party. MPs had then asked Modi to come clean on the subject.

Speaking on the issue in parliament for the first time, Modi said as prime minister it was his duty not to allow "anaap shanap" (ridiculous) comments in the name of religion.

"Nobody has the right to discriminate on the basis of religion... No one has the right to take law into his hands," he said.

"Communalism for political reasons has destroyed the country. Hearts have been broken."

But Modi demanded to know why questions were being "posed to us".

"We want all religions to prosper. We are for unity in diversity, not disunity. All religions should flourish," he added. "It is the uniqueness of India because of its constitution."

Recalling his words in Patna last year, he said both Hindus and Muslims need to battle poverty, not one another.

The prime minister tore into Congress-sponsored Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme as it was a "living reminder" of the previous government's "failures".

"I will ensure MNREGA is never discontinued. It is proof of your failings.

"After so many years of being in power, all you were able to deliver is for a poor man to dig ditches a few days a month," he said, triggering another round of loud approval by his party colleagues.

Modi said he will ensure that the scheme was fortified. "You will give me credit for this at least - that I have some 'rajnitik sudhbudh' (political acumen)."

Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge hit back at Modi over the MNGREA. "Speeches don't fill stomachs," he said. "MNREGA is a programme from which many people benefit. Making fun of it is not in good humour."

Modi said his government had compelled the nation to talk about black money. "This," he said, "is a big thing."

He also refuted criticism that he paid frequent visits abroad.

"They said you need a visa to come to parliament... I don't have to say anything but there are things that need to be done at the international level.

"Previous prime ministers went to these meetings. This prime minister has to go, and so will the prime ministers of future." - IANS