Barely a couple of hours before Yogi Adityanath assured Uttar Pradesh 'Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas', Maharashtra Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar attempted to convince the people as to how the BJP government here was living up to a slogan that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has popularised since early days of his Lok Sabha poll campaign in 2014. Dragging Yogi into this column is not inadvertent but intentional, because a poll promise that the farmers would be given a total loan waiver if the BJP was voted to power, has reflected a lot in the Maharashtra legislature's ongoing budget session.
Fueling the fire
The Opposition disrupted two weeks of proceedings over a demand for a loan waiver, citing the assurance to UP farmers. The Shiv Sena fueled the fire by joining hands with the Opposition, so much so, that rumours were doing rounds that the Uddhav Thackeray-led party was making a serious effort to topple the Devendra Fadnavis government in association with the Congress and the NCP. But all fizzled out as the Sena backed out, and stayed with the BJP while the budget was presented on Saturday. The Sena said it was happy with the Centre's assurance of assisting Maharashtra in offering the distressed farmers a relief in coming days.
The Sena didn't oppose when the Fadnavis-approved budget was presented in the legislature by Mungantiwar and ironically by one of its ministers Deepak Kesarkar, MoS, in the Upper House. The budget did not talk of any loan waiver but invested hundreds of crores in the schemes that are planned to make farming sustainable in the long run. It increased taxes on liquor and lottery and left all other items untouched.
Pepping the numbers
So, going back to UP yet again, can we say that the Modi government is preparing itself for doling out a big sop to farmers in the recently-acquired entity and other states where it wants to increase its numbers in 2019? Some BJP-ruled states will go to polls this year and next before the Lok Sabha election in 2019. Maharashtra is very politically significant because it is the second largest state after UP in terms of Lok Sabha and Assembly seats.
The BJP has its first CM here leading a post-poll coalition with ever-cribbing Shiv Sena that needs to be pruned further.
The issue of loan waiver has certainly been a serious one though Fadnavis has refused to buckle under pressure to announce any hasty decision in this regard. The CM said a big 'no' to the conventional methods that allegedly benefit banks but keep the farmers high and dry.
Taking on a persistent Opposition, which had no other serious issue to raise in the session after a defeat in the civic polls, Fadnavis took a calculated risk by asking them if loan waiver would guarantee no deaths because some 16,000 suicides were recorded even after a previous loan waiver. The statement did create a controversy, but at the same time it spoke the mind of people, who do not approve of writing off loans, either of farmers or of wilful defaulters who have fled the country.
Fadnavis admitted to the weakening finances of the state, saying that releasing Rs 30,500 crore just for servicing farm loans, would take the state nowhere in terms of development.
The state's budget speaks for itself, as it shows no recovery on the financial side with mounting expenditure and a debt burden, which would be Rs 4.13 lakh crore by next fiscal. On a borrowing spree, the state cannot afford any largesse without a major share coming from the Union Government.
With next two years in mind ahead of the crucial 2019 vote - they say Maharashtra's Assembly election might be clubbed with the Lok Sabha - the BJP has little time to improve the state's finances. Traditionally, the election years see the governments spending more and more on things that don't guarantee returns. Healthy growth projections in the economic survey, if not worked on properly and hampered by unavoidable circumstances like natural calamity, are likely to go for a toss. The costs of salary and pension are increasing and there is still no guarantee that leakages in the financial system would stop immediately.
A concerned Fadnavis and distressed farmers in Maharashtra should now be looking up to Yogi Adityanath for seeking the PM's helping hand for fulfilling a poll promise. If UP gets it, can Maharashtra be left behind?
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore. Send your feedback to email@example.com