Millennium Post

Leaps awaited

Leaps awaited

The agrarian crisis in Maharashtra is showing no sign of coming to an end. The incidents of farmers' suicide have continued unabated through the first six months of the current financial year. According to official data, more than 1,300 farmers have committed suicide in the state till June this year. So far, 33 lakh farmers have received benefits under the loan waiver scheme out of 77 lakh accounts under scrutiny. The two regions from where the maximum number of farmers' suicide has been reported are Marathwada and Vidarbha. Despite the onset of monsoon, these two regions have received little rains, destroying the hopes of a normal rain and agricultural activities. The banks are said to be not disbursing new crop loans as they are still busy with clearing the payments to the farmers under the loan waiver scheme. As the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections are scheduled for the next year, BJP which is in power both at the Centre and in the state is likely to face a backlash of the farmers' unhappiness with the government. After coming to power, Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis was quick to announce the loan waiver scheme for the farmers. But its tardy implementation failed the very purpose of the intervention as it failed to provide immediate relief to the debt-ridden farmers. It also failed to reinvigorate the farm sector and the gloom and despondency continued among the farming communities, resulting in continued suicide by them. The farm loan waiver scheme would have been a success if it was able to root out the crisis that the farm sector was facing. But despite writing off loans worth thousands of crores of rupees, the farmers, and the agricultural sector are facing the same problem for which a solution was sought by introducing the farm loan waiver scheme. The failure of the scheme to eradicate the financial crisis that the farmers at large are facing will be seen as the failure of the government to tackle the issue effectively. The fact that a large number of farmers are still to avail the loan waiver scheme because of the slow progress of the scheme will further add up to the growing helplessness and resentment among the farmers. And, this is a bad news for BJP, which is likely to fight the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in the state solo.

The opposition parties are sure to raise these issues during their election campaign next year. They will point out the anomalies in the scheme and its implementation. Despite the good intention and the initiatives taken in the interest of the farmers, BJP is unlikely to receive the support of the farmers in the upcoming election. The biggest reason for BJP's failure to translate its good work into votes is the shoddy implementation of the government's welfare schemes. The party, which deploys a large number of party workers during the election campaign, fails to motivate its cadres to help in the implementation of its schemes at the grassroots level. It is this disconnect between its cadre and the common people after the election is over that offsets the good work of the BJP governments. Its longtime alliance partner Shiv Sena has been critical of the BJP's policies for the past four years. In the next round of elections when it is likely to contest the polls on its own, it is likely to intensify its criticism of the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state. As Sena still wields significant influence in Maharashtra, it is likely to touch a chord with the aggrieved farmers when it raises the issue of farmers' suicides and how the BJP government has not been able to do much for them. Another Maharashtra-based party NCP will also raise the same issues and its alliance partner in the state Congress has already been flagging concerns over the issue nationwide. In all likelihood, the chorus of opposition voices on the issue of farmers' suicide is expected to reach a crescendo during the election in the state. How BJP tackles this will be worth watching out for.

The real issue, however, is to find a solution to the agrarian crisis that the Indian farm sector has been going through for past some decades. The farmers who toil in their fields in the countryside are often dependent on monsoon rains and local money-lenders. While monsoon rains in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions have been deficient and much below the national average, the local money-lenders charge exorbitant interest rates for the money they lend to the poor farmers. The vicissitudes of nature and debt-trap of local moneylenders have sounded the death-knell for the farmers. Farm loan waiver scheme can at best be an only one-time move to take the farmers out of the vicious circles of aggravated financial crisis. The long-term solution would entail reinvigorating the farm sector with the improved infrastructure of irrigation and robust investment in reimagining the agricultural sector. The BJP governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra still have about a year to go before the polls and they should make use of the time to introduce some pathbreaking initiative to achieve a breakthrough in the crisis-ridden Indian farm sector.

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