The BJP's bait
As farm loan waivers continue to be an allure will the income assistance scheme for small and marginal farmers give Narendra Modi the desired traction in Lok Sabha elections
Unprecedented in many ways because it seemed more like a full budget than its interim form, the pre-election exercise of the Narendra Modi government, came as one of the special weapons in the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) armoury. The timing of using the weapon, termed as the last resort, is widely debated, and questions are being raised if the BJP's bait would result in grand electoral success in May.
Articulated typically in BJP style, the presentation of several schemes promises to dole out their share - direct and indirect - to people across the sections. Farm sector remains the prime focus because of the heavy price that the BJP had to pay in view of unattended crises in agriculture-dominated states. The eligible farmers are set to get funds transferred to their bank accounts before the poll code of conduct comes into effect in March. All states have been directed to share the data so that the money can be transferred.
Farmland vs cyberland
The BJP continues to be the ruling party or the second largest party in the states where rural economy matters most, and the accumulative strength of rural voters is far more and decisive. Maharashtra is one state where there is more urbanisation but its agrarian crisis continues to be as serious as BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh) states. The BJP government in Maharashtra did try to address the crisis through several schemes that worked two ways.
Some gave farmers direct benefit. Others focused on capital investment in projects that would sustain farming on a long-term basis. But the government's experience in implementing a farm loan waiver says that people don't want online hassles and scrutiny, but demand that the dole should reach them as early as possible, even if the process involved leakages, fraud beneficiaries and cheats in the banks who use waivers to write off NPAs (non-performing assets) by creating fake accounts.
Do waivers really help?
In its loan waiver that still continues for those left-out, the Devendra Fadnavis government insulated disbursement through a digital platform that went kaput in the initial stage, but took off with precision later. The Centre has chosen to follow Maharashtra's digitally transparent way, and asked all states to share the data in a day or two. Would non-BJP states respond as quickly as BJP-ruled and friendly states?
As promised ahead of polls a couple of years ago, the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh announced a farm loan waiver. Maharashtra followed suit in next few months. Karnataka, which waived off loans when the BJP was in power, did it once again after the JD-Congress took over. The Congress governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh implemented farm loan waivers immediately after swearing-in. Complaints of incompleteness, non-inclusiveness and paltry disbursements have started coming in here. Farmers say the schemes should go beyond the palliative nature and there should be a permanent solution. But is that possible when everyone wants everything delivered so quickly, even as 'quacks' in the system botch up the entire idea of making farming sustainable?
If farm loan waivers could put to rest the crisis, then why did UP and Maharashtra, where the scheme was announced much earlier, face farmers' unrest? Saying that a marginal or conditional loan waiver would not suffice, the cries for maximum support price, irrigation, land rights and demand for making the farmers debt free without capping the loan amount and individual/family land holding, continue to be raised. These points would be one of the election planks for the opposition, despite the Centre's support scheme, interest rebate on farm loans and a waiver by the state government.
Opinion polls project a major loss for the BJP in UP where it had broken all records in the Parliamentary and Assembly polls. The party's prospects in Maharashtra depend largely on the urban voters who are one half of the total voters in the state. The BJP's pre-poll alliance, if any, with the Shiv Sena is the other major factor.
It is understood that small and marginal farmers need supplementary assistance in a pricing situation that does not favour them. Inflation impacts prices of items other than farm produce whereas cultivation (input) costs continue to increase every year. The root of the problem lies here. Doles, if continued till eternity, won't end the woes.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajoreSend your feedback to email@example.com
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