The Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections are just months way and the Congress – which has not been able to make any sizeable political mark in the state for close to three decades now – is looking to add enough seats to its tally there to help it play at least a kingmaker, if not the king, in the state. And for that, it is wooing farmers as a considerable vote bank.
But that is not the only state where such a thing is going on. Punjab – the erstwhile bread basket of India – is seeing similar promises being made by political parties, and Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi himself has said in poll-bound Gujarat that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is choosing to give loans to industrialists instead of waiving farmers' loans.
Farm loan waiver is currently a political issue more than anything else. There is currently no mass suicide of farmers, like the last time it happened in the cotton-growing belt in general and Vidarbha in particular. That does not mean farmers are not suffering. Many of them have faced hardships following the demonetisation move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
However, the Congress is raising the issue because it wants more political mileage in Uttar Pradesh – a state that has sent the most number of prime ministers to the office, including Modi himself. The issue is being raised in other states also to primarily gain an electoral advantage because no political party can continue to win elections once it is branded anti-poor or anti-farmer.
In September, at a Kisan Yatra rally in Ambedkar Nagar, Rahul Gandhi sharpened his attack on the Modi government on the issue of farmers' plight and reminded the people at the rally how the erstwhile UPA government had waived Rs 70,000 crore worth of farmer' loans even when the country's economy was not all that bright.
Effect on Budget 2017
The Central government will have this in mind when it formulates the Budget for the next fiscal year. While it will not want to be branded anti-farmer and so will be under pressure from the Opposition to grant enough agrarian relief to avoid the tag, it will also have to keep complex monetary calculations in mind in order to ensure that other sectors do not suffer.