Par­ties pitch for farm loan waivers to corner BJP gov­ern­ment

India Today - - STATES - By Ki­ran D. Tare

Ap­par­ently un­mind­ful of the ris­ing mer­cury, politi­cians in Ma­ha­rash­tra have fanned out into the hin­ter­land, all hop­ing to win the sup­port of the state’s dis­tressed farm­ers. The farm­ers to­gether owe com­mer­cial banks and agri­cul­ture co­op­er­a­tives an es­ti­mated Rs 30,500 crore, which the state’s par­ties—the Shiv Sena, Congress and the NCP—feel is a per­fect stick to beat the Deven­dra Fad­navis-led BJP gov­ern­ment in the state with.

On May 7, just two days into his Shiv Sam­park Ya­tra across Marath­wada, Sena chief Ud­dhav Thack­eray launched his ‘Mee kar­j­mukt honarach (I will be­come loan free)’ drive to mo­bilise in­debted farm­ers into agi­ta­tion mode to get their loans waived. Ear­lier, the Congress and NCP had launched a joint ‘sang­harsh ya­tra’ dur­ing which party lead­ers promised the farm­ers their sup­port on the is­sue.

The Congress-NCP be­lieve farm debts, which af­fects the lives of thou­sands of the state’s farm­ers, is their best chance to re­gain po­lit­i­cal ground, es­pe­cially af­ter the drub­bing in the re­cent lo­cal body elec­tions. Congress pres­i­dent Ashok Cha­van, who led the ya­tra along­side the NCP’s Ajit Pawar, says it was the “in­sen­si­tiv­ity of the state gov­ern­ment to­wards farm­ers” that had forced the Op­po­si­tion to come onto the streets. It was the sin­gle-point agenda at a se­ries of pub­lic meet­ings the two lead­ers ad­dressed in sev­eral towns across the state.

Thack­eray’s pres­ence in Marath­wada (which saw the max­i­mum farmer sui­cides in 2016—600 of the 1,500 to­tal count for the state) and the Congress-NCP’s cam­paign across af­fected re­gions in­clud­ing



Vi­darbha seem to have fi­nally stirred the state gov­ern­ment into ac­tion. CM Fad­navis is now launch­ing his own sam­vaad ya­tra in which BJP work­ers will go into Ma­ha­rash­tra vil­lages to raise aware­ness on his gov­ern­ment’s many “farmer-friendly schemes”. The cam­paign, though, is strug­gling to take off. Par­ty­men are al­ready find­ing it dif­fi­cult to cope with an ear­lier pro­gramme, ‘vis­tarak’, a com­mu­ni­ca­tion drive in which party func­tionar­ies and elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives are di­rected to spend 15 days in five months work­ing for the peo­ple out­side their lo­cal­i­ties.

Ma­ha­rash­tra will need an ad­di­tional Rs 12,000 crore just to waive a Rs 1 lakh loan per farmer (on the lines of CM Yogi Adityanath’s scheme in Ut­tar Pradesh). CM Fad­navis would much rather use the money to roll out schemes to sup­ple­ment farm in­comes, like pro­vid­ing farm­ers with poul­try. The ideas, how­ever, haven’t im­pressed even ally Thack­eray. “In UP, there’s a Yogi gov­ern­ment, but Ma­ha­rash­tra has a nirupyogi (use­less) gov­ern­ment,” the Shiv Sena leader taunted the CM in Au­rangabad on May 3.

Po­lit­i­cal ob­servers say Thack­eray and the Congress-NCP are gear­ing up for pos­si­ble early assem­bly polls. They be­lieve the BJP is likely to call midterm elec­tions around De­cem­ber if there’s a good mon­soon this year.

CHUG ALONG A Congress farmer truck rally in Bul­dana district

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