Farm loan waivers: Has Congress used it as poll promise or did it walk the talk?

New Delhi, Feb 23 (IANS) Besides Minimum Support Price (MSP) guarantee for crops, farm loan waiver is one of the key demands of farmers agitating on Delhi-Punjab borders.

The second round of farmers’ stir has also found support from the Congress, which has pledged to fulfil the farmers’ demands if voted to power in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.

Four rounds of farmer-government talks have not yielded any conclusive result, though the BJP government did attempt to soothe nerves by claiming that a legislation on MSP guarantee can’t be hurried upon as it requires consultation with many stakeholders.

On other hand, Rahul Gandhi, in a recent public rally, took a vow to implement the MSP guarantee for crops, as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendations.

In his five reports submitted during 2004-2006, Bharat Ratna M.S. Swaminathan had recommended MSP allocation for any crop at 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production. This would ensure 50 per cent return for all the farmers.

Soon after Rahul Gandhi’s pledge to implement the Swaminathan Committee’s recommendations, a document pertaining to the Question Hour of a Parliament session during the UPA rule in 2010 surfaced, showing Congress’ reluctance and resistance to implement the same.

In response to a BJP MP’s question, the UPA government had termed the report as “impractical and infeasible”, and blocked it from rollout.

This gave BJP an ammunition to attack the Congress for ‘befooling’ the farmers with unrealistic promises and then breaking them.

It also accused the Congress of making lofty promises to public and then reneging on them, claiming that it must end the practice of lip-service and start ‘true service’ of people.

A look back at Congress’ poll promises shows that the party-ruled governments in many states promised farm loan waivers to win people’s support. But after coming to power, it chose to brush it under the carpet, citing poor exchequer funds.

Since farm loan waivers are believed to be ‘sure-shot’ means to return to power, the party often resorted to this poll gimmick in many states, and when it was time for walking the talk, Congress governments either floundered or backtracked.

Some past instances clearly show the doublespeak of the Congress in terms of poll promises. In many states, it promised farm loan waivers and then refused to implement the same after coming to power.

During the 2018 Assembly elections in five states, the Congress structured its campaign around farm loan waivers. It also got voted to power in three states — Chattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. However, in all these states, the party dropped its poll promise, thus inviting charges of ‘hoodwinking’ the farmers.

In Karnataka, the Congress-Janata Dal (Secular) promised loan waiver of Rs 44,000 crore during the 2018 Assembly elections. However, it truncated the allocated budget by one-third. H.D. Kumaraswamy had then admitted that the government spent only Rs 5,450 crore on farm loan waivers as against the allocated budget of Rs 15,880 crore.

In Madhya Pradesh, the Kamal Nath government not only refused to implement farm loan waviers, but also blocked 51 welfare schemes of the Central government. It was also accused of ‘conspiring’ to stonewall the rollout of the PM Kisan scheme for the state’s farmers, as it didn’t send its list to the Centre for their categorisation as ‘beneficiaries’.

Statistically, a couple of parties, primarily the Congress, made farm loan waivers a big electoral agenda in 21 elections between 1987 and 2020. Interestingly, 17 of these elections were won apparently by those who promised waivers, show NABARD data.



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