Police in India fired water cannons and used batons to disperse protesters who gathered outside Parliament Monday to object to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s controversial land acquisition reform bill. Hundreds of workers and supporters of the Indian National Congress opposition party carried slogans directed at Modi’s “anti-farmer” bill, which passed in the lower house last week and was set for debate this week in the upper house.
Senior leaders of the Congress party, including Jairam Ramesh, Raj Babbar, Ahmed Patel, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Randeep Surjewala and Congress' youth faction leader, Amrinder Singh Raja Brar, were present in the protests in Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, wielding signs with wording such as “Farmers oppose Narendra Modi.”
"[Our] fight will go on, both in the Parliament and outside against the amendments. We will keep fighting against it," Ramesh told reporters, according to Times of India.
Congress staunchly defended the current version of the land bill that the party passed in 2013. “For the first time we put power in the hands of the farmers from the hands of the collectors. Even the land laborers were given bargaining power through the law. It had the provisions of four times compensation. We essentially repealed the century-old law,” Ramesh said, according to Indian news site The Hindu, referring to the original 1894 land acquisition bill enacted during the British rule.
Protesters, who were led by Ramesh, marched about 37 miles Friday from Bhatta-Parsaul in Uttar Pradesh to New Delhi, where protests against Modi’s land acquisition reform bill took place in 2011. The group reached the Mahatma Gandhi Raj Ghat memorials in Delhi Sunday night, two miles away from Parliament. Upon reaching Parliament, the protesters tried to jump barricades before being rebuffed by water cannons and a baton charge.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi, who was not present in the protest, expressed her solidarity through senior leader Patel. “Sonia has said that she was always with them and will continue to back and support the movement,” Patel said, addressing the protesters outside Parliament, according to The Hindu.
Azad, leader of the opposition in the upper house Rajya Sabha in which Congress has a slight majority, told the crowd that Congress has vowed to block Modi’s bill no matter what. “You continue protesting outside the Parliament, we will try not to let the bill get passed when it is introduced in the Parliament,” Azad said, according to The Hindu. “We are not talking about changing the shape of the  bill. We are not for any amendment of the bill. We want this bill to go lock, stock and barrel,” he said.
Modi’s land reform bill passed last Tuesday in the lower house Lok Sabha, in which his ruling Bharatiya Janata Party had the majority. His controversial bill has been criticized as “anti-farmer” for granting the government greater powers to appropriate land under eminent domain for public works. While it could have passed in Lok Sabha on Mar. 4 without amendments, Modi watered down his proposal and delayed enacting it to ensure its safe passage in Rajya Sabha. If Modi’s bill fails to pass in Rajya Sabha, his proposal will lapse and become ineligible to be passed again, unless Modi signs an executive order to keep the amendment alive – a move that could stir criticism of abuse of power.