Amarinder announces farm loan waiver in Punjab, Cong to use it as fresh ammo against Centre, BJP
The Congress party has fresh ammo to take on the central government, Narendra Modi and the BJP. This time it is the loan waiver that has been announced by Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh last week.
The party is all set to go to town with this as the decision is likely to emerge as the pivot of the attacks that the Congress is going to launch against the Centre and the BJP.
The Congress has already started posing questions to Modi on the issue which he will have to answer sooner or later. The Congress-led Karnataka government has also issued orders on a waiver of farm loans of up to Rs 50,000 taken from state-run cooperative institutions
Punjab Congress Chief Sunil Jakhar had undertaken a trip to the Congress headquarters in Delhi last week where he briefed the core group of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) on the details of the package that has been announced by the Congress in Punjab.
Sources say that the Congress will now play it up across the country, particularly in the poll-bound states.
Setting the agenda
Manish Doshi, the Congress spokesperson in Gujarat, told Catch, “The issue of the loan waiver will be the first point in our manifesto for the forthcoming Gujarat polls. We are promising a waiver to the farmers in Gujarat. We want to tell the people that it is only the Congress that delivers on public centric issues. First, it was the Manmohan Singh-led UPA government that had come out with a Rs 70,000 crore loan waiver for the entire country. Now it is the Congress government that has done it in Punjab.”
He pointed out that a large number of farmers have committed suicide in Gujarat under the BJP rule. According to reports appearing in the media in March this year that quote data from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), 582 farmers committed suicide in 2013 while figure went up in 2014 to 600 deaths.
In 2015, the situation improved with the number of farmer suicides coming down to 301, but the state still stood at the ninth position when it came to farmer suicides.
Although there have been no farmer suicides or cases of farm distress reported in poll-bound Himachal Pradesh, the party is studying the loan waiver announced in Punjab closely and might draw a strategy from it and take it forward during the upcoming campaign.
Meanwhile, the Congress has also said that the waiver announced by Amarinder is in a stark contrast to the announcements made by the BJP Chief Minister in Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, and his colleague in Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis.
“What the Amarinder government has done is not a mere political announcement. He has declared it on the floor of the House as a policy statement. The panel under eminent economist Dr T Haque studied 18 lakh accounts of the farmers after collecting data from different banks. Two third of these farmers are small and medium farmers and 13 lakh had taken loans. Loans of Rs 8.75 lakh have been totally waived off while Rs 1.5 lakh have got a waiver of up to Rs 2 lakh,” Jakhar said.
He trained his guns on the previous regime, of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD)–BJP combine, asking what stopped them from announcing the waiver for the farmers particularly at a time when there was a Modi-headed regime at the Centre.
Timing it right
The Congress has also started sending out the message that the Modi government will announce a waiver somewhere closer to the 2019 Parliamentary polls and it is here that the party is trying to take a moral high ground.
“We could have also waited for another four years and announce it closer to the time when our tenure was coming to an end. But we did it in the first 100 days of our tenure. Modi will be announcing it something close to the Lok Sabha elections but can India wait for that many more farmers to end their lives?” Jakhar asked.
Pointing to the recent statement given by finance minister Arun Jaitley saying that the Centre won't fund crop loan waivers as agriculture is a state subject, Jakhar took a leaf out of BJP's 'Chatur Baniya' remark on Mahatma Gandhi. He said that Jaitley is putting forward the view of a 'Chatur Sarkar' and said that the farmers should not be treated as a vote bank by the BJP.
He also posed a question to Modi –
“What stops you from announcing a waiver for the farmers at this point in time? You have been claiming a windfall of Rs 3 lakh crore because of a slump in the crude oil prices since you came to power and this can easily fund the loan waiver. You will do it close to 2019 elections and till then there would be many more suicides. Would your conscience allow you to sleep peacefully?
The Punjab problem
In the context of Punjab, Jakhar and other Congress leaders have been taking pot shots at former chief minister Parkash Singh Badal for not coming forward to support Amarinder in his pro-farmer move while the SAD has always claimed to be a pro-farmer party.
Meanwhile, the SAD-BJP combine has been attacking the Congress and the state finance minister Manpreet Singh Badal for engineering a 'fake loan waiver' which does not give any relief to poor farmers. They have been asking him to tell the Punjabis why he has played such a cruel joke on them by making promises without keeping any provisions in the budget to implement the same.
SAD president Sukhbir Badal asked whether all farmers were covered by the so-called loan waiver scheme or was it restricted to crop loans only? He has also asked whether only cooperative loans are covered under the scheme or also those of nationalised banks, cooperative banks and commission agents.
“There is a feeling that a fraud has been committed against small farmers with medium and rich farmers who take crop loans being incentivised,” Sukhbir said.
He said that Manpreet should also mention whether farm labour is a part of this waiver and why a budgetary allocation of only Rs 1,500 crore was made for an accumulated loan of around Rs 90,000 crore.
The Congress has been claiming that the Rs 1,500 crore is the first installment of the waiver. It has also been saying that the commission agents should come forward with details of money they have loaned to the farmers and at what rate.
Jakhar pointed out that a majority of them do not have lending licences. He also claimed that the waiver of all loans up to Rs 50,000, in a phased manner, given to the Scheduled Castes (SC) and the economically weaker sections by the State Schedule Caste Corporation and the State Backward Classes Corporation would mainly help the farm labourers.
One thing is for sure, Amarinder's loan waiver is surely going to be a major element of political discourse till 2019 Lok Sabha polls at least.