For the past year or so, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has been under immense pressure for a giant farm loan waiver to farmers in the state. Not just desperate farmers and the opposition, but even their part-ally-part-rival, the Shiv Sena, has been hounding the BJP for this.
But even in the face of this pressure, in the face of severe droughts in 2014 and 2015 and the unending spate of farmer suicides, Fadnavis had been consistent: no, no, no. It was bad economics and it wasn't a long-term solution, he insisted.
Now suddenly, the government has done a u-turn and announced the "biggest-ever" loan waiver in Maharashtra's history: Rs 30,000 crore. This, on the back of the phenomenal electoral victories in local body elections in Maharashtra, the successful implementation of Jal Yukt Shivar
, the micro-irrigation project to make the state drought-free, and most importantly, a bumper harvest after a good monsoon in 2016!
So what's pushed Fadnavis to give in despite being comfortably positioned, that too right before the onset of another normal monsoon?As you do in UP, so must you in Maharashtra
Rs 36,359 crores. That's the farm loan waiver announced by Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in April. The new government swiftly took the decision in the first cabinet meeting, making it known that they were serious about a promise made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But it is this very act of generosity and alacrity that came to bite Fadnavis with the opposition rightly asking: if the BJP can in UP, why can't the BJP in Maharashtra? Farmers in the state quickly made the same query (and legitimately so): why not us?
It's safe to assume that the BJP had anticipated this scenario. But Fadnavis was put in an awkward position. And within days of Yogi Adityanath's announcement, the first hint came from Fadnavis that he would consider a loan waiver at the "appropriate time". He appeared uncomfortable, but it was at least the politically correct thing to say.Mega harvest, falling prices
The great monsoon of 2016 brought much relief to the state. Especially to the drought-hit regions of Marathwada and Vidarbha. The good rains led to a super harvest and a glut in the produce led to a fall in prices. Compared to 2016, soya and tomato prices have dropped about 28% and onion prices have gone down by 35% according to official government figures. Among the worst-hit has been tur dal
for which farmers are only getting half the price today. Compounding the problem of a record crop, the state government was accused of being tardy in the procurement of the lentil, thus forcing farmers to sell for less to traders.
So if the UP loan waiver set the stage, the crashing prices further cornered Fadnavis.Angry farmer, 'angrier' neta
Spilt milk. Dumped vegetables. Shaved heads. Angry protests. Bandhs
. Firing. Dead farmers.
With farmers out on the roads in Maharashtra and in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, the images of violence became compelling. The inevitable was now a matter of formality. The situation became untenable with fears rising that Mumbai and other cities would be hit by a huge crunch in supply of milk and vegetables because of a threatened indefinite strike.
Fadnavis alleges the violent protests were politically incited, a claim the opposition denies. However, voices on the ground believe the truth is somewhere in between. What began initially as a spontaneous movement was later partly hijacked by political forces to target the government. Were the dramatic visuals of milk and food being thrown on highways staged or orchestrated? There is no clear picture if this is indeed true.
That said, does it really change the multiple issues that farmers are faced with? No.Farmers' plight: ticking time-bomb
Just recently, Arvind Subramanian, India's Chief Economic Advisor, said
that the average monthly earning of a farmer in India is Rs 1,600. That's right. Rs 1,600. It simply doesn't pay to be a farmer in India, he says. And despite the efforts made by PM Modi - crop insurance and soil health cards among other steps - we are still a very long way from giving our farmers even a semi-decent life.
It does not seem that the election promise by PM Modi
of ensuring that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) is 50% more than the cost of agricultural produce (also recommended by the M S Swaminathan Committee) is going to materialise. The argument against it is that it could distort both the domestic and international markets.
No doubt it is complex. But what about the assurance given to farmers during the election campaign? How do farmers survive if their input costs are more than what they earn? Worse still is the state of landless farmers who aren't a part of the institutionalized credit system and hence won't be beneficiaries of loan waivers.
In September 2015, as actor Nana Patekar toured Marathwada and financially assisted widows of those farmers who had committed suicide, this commentator had interviewed him.
"There could be a farmers' revolution. If farmers can kill themselves, they could kill others too, and if this thought of a 'revolution' persists, farmers could become Naxals," Patekar had warned
Perhaps there is a tinge of exaggeration here..But it is an ominous reminder of how terribly pitiful the condition of our farmers is.(Tejas Mehta is former Bureau Chief, NDTV 24x7 and is now a political commentator.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.