Maharashtra farmers' stir: Is BJP's loan waiver promise aimed at securing Shiv Sena support for presidential election?

The Maharashtra Government has, as of now, agreed only to a waiver of outstanding crop loans of some 31 lakh farmers, and not all farm-related debts. That aspect will be dealt with by a committee of ministers and farmers, who would lay down the conditions which make waiving of non-crop loans possible.

The deadline to work out the eligibility for this waiver is 25 July. The deadline hides a major political gambit by the Bharatiya Janata Party to ensure that its candidate, whoever it be, for the Rashtrapati Bhavan secures Shiv Sena's votes. The Shiv Sena has been demanding a blanket waiver of all loans for all farmers but state chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is not amenable to the idea.

BJP. Representational Image. PTI

File image of Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

The polling for the election of the next President of India would be held on 17 July, and if need be – if there were to be a contest between an NDA nominee and the Opposition's – counting would be held on 20 July. The deliberations to work out the eligibility criteria for the loan waiver does need time, but the 25 July deadline smells of hidden motives.

Should there be a distinction between small and other farmers, between the dry land and the irrigated landowning farmers, and what about those who own a land but also have other businesses, including employment which makes them Income Tax payers? These are not easy issues to tackle and, possibly, may need longer deliberations.

Shiv Sena, with 63 MLAs and exactly a third of that number of Members of Parliament, is a significant part of the electoral college and holds a 2.4 percent share of the total – counting all NDA and supporting parties. That share is what BJP want to secure for its candidate, to bolster its nominee's prospects and avoid the ignominy of being nose-thumbed by a partner in Maharashtra and an ally at the Centre.

After the BJP's own 40.03 percent share in the electoral college votes, from the various parties which are its allies, Shiv Sena has the third largest. Telugu Desam Party has a 2.82 percent share. Its supremo and Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu has already committed these votes to the NDA candidate. But, Shiv Sena is proving to be a tough customer.

The Sena has been mercurial and had wanted to be in the Opposition when it was numerically humbled by the BJP in the State Assembly elections. It has since been an in-house opposition though a post-poll partnership in the government. Last week, its ministers stayed away from a cabinet meeting. Sena has twice voted against its ally's nominee, once in favour of Pratibha Patil, because she was a Maharashtrian, and Pranab Mukherjee because he came down to meet Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and sought support.

Though the other Opposition parties, notably the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, have been backing the farmers' stir, Shiv Sena has been strongly demanding an across the board waiver so the indebted farmers can 'start their lives anew'. Fadnavis would find it hard to comply with such a waiver though as the state's debt is nearly Rs four lakh crore. Even with the crop loan waiver, of Rs 31 lakh, farmers would hit the exchequer hard.

The state would have to find at least Rs 33,000 crore to underwrite the loans being excused and it would be hard to do so without trimming state welfare schemes, most of which are aimed at rural areas – the domain of farmers. The Reserve Bank of India, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development and other banks, however, have not been taken into confidence so far amid the stir and efforts to calm the agitating farmers.

What has been done as of now is to soothe the farmers, making the small landholders who own up to five acres immediately happy, and put on hold the larger issue – a total write-off of all loans. By then, the BJP should find some elbow room to persuade the Shiv Sena to be reasonable and help the NDA win the presidential election. But after that, should the state not satisfy the farmers and the Sena, there could be a worse ruckus.

Updated Date: Jun 12, 2017 14:15 PM

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