Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has waived off small loans taken by farmers owning up to five acres of land. The relief offered by the state government will come into effect by October 31 this year.
Though leaders of Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan, who spearheaded the strike and negotiated the deal through talks with Chief Minister, are supposed to have agreed to withdraw the strike in lieu of loan waiver costing the state about ₹30,000 crore, reservations among sections of farmers remain since they expected a complete waiver of farm loans whether big or small.
There have been fierce protests by farmers for past few days in most parts of Maharashtra. These have clearly put the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party both in the State and Centre on back foot. Its attempts to blame the Opposition for inciting farmers before and after partially waiving off farm loans by the Fadnavis Government have failed to cut ice with the protesting farmers. There are quite a few reasons for this.
Behind the deep anguish of the farmers brought out by widespread disruption of supply of milk, grains and vegetables in the many markets in the state is the government’s long standing indifference and apathy towards the farm sector. This has sadly been so despite the Government’s tall promises before both Lok Sabha and Assembly elections, which were held in close succession in 2014 in the State.
The anger over such indifference heightened when the UP Chief Minister waived off loans worth ₹36,395 crore on April 5, within a month of Vidhan Sabha polls in UP. This benefited small and marginal farmers who had taken loans upto ₹ 1 lakh. Yogi’s step brought other state governments under farmers’ pressure.
Shiv Sena leader Udhav Thackeray demanded a similar waiver for the farmers of Maharashtra. He stated that if the UP Government could do this, why couldn’t Maharashrta. Eventually, Fadnavis had to waive off the loans because he was left with no other option.
Even though the farmer unrest had been brewing for some time, the Maharashtra Government did nothing, prompting Thackeray to liken the promises made by BJP to Maharashtra farmers to be ‘Jumlas’, or a poor conjecture, to remind BJP chief Amit Shah’s famous refrain vis-à-vis transferring gains to be made by Narendra Modi on assuming power in 2014 by bringing back black money. In Modi’s election campaign return of billions of rupees stashed in tax havens abroad by evaders was not only promised but also its disbursal in bank accounts of ordinary people back home was assured.
Similarly, in case of Maharashtra where extreme distress and hardships in the wake of recurring crop failures have often forced farmers to commit suicide, Modi had held a discussion with the poor farmers over a cup of tea in Yavatmal district as part of his election campaign.
A little over three years ago, on March 20, 2014 to be precise, in the full glare of both electronic and print media, Modi spoke to the villagers of Dabhadi close to Yavatmal. Farmers from hundreds of villages were also linked to him for a live video conference.
He tried to elicit stories of their plight and promised farm produce prices to be fixed on his forming Government at over and above 50 percent of the total cost of production besides promising hassle-free bank loans on easy terms, suitable storage facilities for both perishable and not so perishable farm produce, assistance to widows and other dependents of farmers who gave in because of back breaking debt and committed suicide, and development of farm backed industries right in the confines of the village to generate employment.
His list of promises was, in fact, longer than most. To remind the ruling BJP of the promises made, people have been marking the anniversaries of Modi’s Kisano Ke Saath Chai Pe Charcha held in Dabhadi in 2014 by holding similar events in the village or nearby Arni in Yavatmal.
When these pleas went unheard, former Maharashtra minister and state Congress leader Shivraj Moghe led a group of farmers from the State to Delhi’s Jantar Mantar. The group sat on a fast last month on May 18 and 19 in the Capital in the hope that the Modi government would act on the promises made in March 2014. However, the Modi government remained unmoved, leaving farmers with little choice but to cut supplies to Mumbai and other cities of Maharashtra.
The impasse thus born has now been sought to be resolved by Fadnavis.