BJP’s UP poll promise of crop loan waiver becomes prestige issue in Maharashtra
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is exulting in its victory in the recently held assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Goa and Manipur, but that very cause for celebration has landed Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis in a soup.
While campaigning in UP, the BJP made assurances to the people that if voted to power, it would waive off farmers' debt from crop loans.
Though it remains to be seen whether the party walks the talk, considering the people of UP voted for the party like never before, these promises have led to a stir in Maharashtra.
A vigilant Congress
It was the Congress which first hit out at the state government, demanding that the same be implemented in Maharashtra.
Shiv Sena, which parted ways with the old ally BJP during the recent Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) elections, picked up on the issue a little late, only when the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) addressed it immediately after the budget session of the state Assembly began last week.
The Sena, which has cashed in on every opportunity to criticise the BJP and have been highly vocal against BJP leaders, especially CM Devendra Fadnavis and Prime Minister Narendra Modi all through the recent election season, failed to take advantage of the situation.
But not to be left out for too long, party executive president Uddhav Thackeray quickly ordered his cadre to not allow the House to function unless the government announces a crop loan waiver – a rare moment when the ruling party has taken to protesting in the House and disrupting the proceedings with Opposition.
Shiv Sena MLAs and minister will launch the attack on 15 March, when the Session resumes.
“Now that we have got the order, it will be implemented in total, which is the Shiv Sena tradition. We will not let both Houses function till complete loan waiver is announced,” said state environment minister Ramdas Kadam.
Senior Shiv Sena leader and industries minister Subhash Desai alleged that the state government has also reduced Minimum Support Price (MSP) for various crops such as pulses, wheat and jowar. “We will also force the government to implement the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission,” he says.
Interestingly, Fadnavis is cornered on the issue as BJP MLAs too, had joined the crop loan waiver protest in the House last week.
The other stand
Fadnavis has strongly opposed a complete loan waiver to farmers and has said that it would not help farmers, but only benefit “the cooperative credit societies and cooperative banks which extend crop loans to farmer”.
“Past cases have shown how waiving loans never really had any effect on the number of farmer suicides. The UPA government too had given loan waiver to farmers in Vidarbha, but it did not stop the suicides. We don’t want the farmer to be just debt free, we want to empower them financially by improving agriculture infrastructure,” he said.
Finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar said, “The decision will have massive impact on the state exchequer as the crop loan amount is Rs 35,000 crore. It will have a huge burden on the state.”
An impossible demand
While politicians are fighting over the issue to get mileage and earn brownie points, experts say it would be near impossible for the government to meet such a demand.
A senior bureaucrat in the finance ministry, who did not wish to be named, said: “This demand will empty the state coffers. No wise CM can simply waive off crop loans, which are to the tune of Rs 35,000 crore. It will cripple the state in no time. Since politicians have made it a prestige issue, they are now demanding it vehemently.”
Despite the technical and financial constraints of the state government to give crop loan waiver, Fadnavis will find it extremely challenging to handle the situation.
“The BJP assured crop loan waiver to farmers of Uttar Pradesh. Hence we demand the same for farmers in Maharashtra. It is up to the government to manage it,” said NCP MLA Jayant Patil.