Delivering the promise
Congress must now live up to its bold electoral commitment of waiving farm loans and uplifting agricultural crisis
There was great jubilation at Congress' victory in the just-concluded Assembly elections but let's face the reality. The Congress win in two major Hindi speaking states—Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh—is not as convincing as that of Chhattisgarh. Odds were indeed against BJP but the saffron party gave a tough fight to Congress and the party could not get a majority in Rajasthan and MP. Congress has to depend on the support of BSP, Samajwadi Party and the Independents to form the government. BSP Chief Mayawati extended support of its two MLAs on humiliating terms. Notwithstanding her differences with Congress, she urged that BSP has to extend support to Rahul Gandhi's party to keep the "bigger enemy", BJP, out.
From the tone and tenor of Mayawati's speech, it is clear that Congress should not take BSP's support for granted. Congress leadership in MP and Rajasthan has to carve out a majority by winning over the Independents, many of whom are rebel Congressmen; they contested because they were denied ticket by the leadership. They will return back to the party-fold most willingly.
As Congress in MP and Rajasthan has a wafer-thin majority, the Chief Ministers of the two states should be experienced and tactful in dealing with any situation. Rahul Gandhi has wisely chosen Kamal Nath to lead the party in Madhya Pradesh. Kamal Nath is shrewd enough politically and has administrative experience of long years as a minister at the Centre.
The other aspirant Jyotiraditya Scindia, aged 47, is bright and has made a mark in Parliament but possesses no political and administrative experience. The state-level politics is the most intricate. Scindia's influence is limited to Gwalior-Chambal belt. His royal lineage may not fit well with Congress' attempt to identify itself with the common man.
Rahul Gandhi showed the same wisdom in choosing a leader in Rajasthan. After hours of talks, spread over two days, the logjam broke and a formula was worked out, according to which, Gehlot became the CM and the young Sachin Pilot agreed to be the deputy CM. These are difficult times; Congress needs experienced and politically astute leaders to lead the party in the desert state. Gehlot, having been already CM for two terms, is more suited to be CM and the Central leadership has wisely decided in his favour. Sachin is 41 and can wait. Rahul should ensure that the old and young leaders function as a team and should not become rivals.
There is not much problem in picking up a leader in Chhattisgarh as the party has a massive majority. The local leaders will accept the High Command's decision.
The ugly demonstration by supporters of Scindia and Sachin show that Congress is divided even before the two leaders began their innings. So, soon after the electoral victory, when the bigger battle is ahead, the ugly demonstrations portrays indiscipline and have to be put down with heavy hands. Both Scindia and Sachin should ask their followers to desist from such acts.
In barely two weeks 2019 will begin — the election year. It is said that Congress victory in the three states will have a definite bearing on the general elections due in April and May. Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have also been traditional strongholds of BJP. The saffron party has been dented, but surely not erased. The Congress governments now have to show results and fulfil the many promises it has made to the country's people.
With national elections scheduled barely four months from now, any perceived inability to meet campaign promises is fraught with immediate risk. The party's manifesto for Chhattisgarh has pledged to waive the loans of farmers "within ten days of government formation". That by itself is amenable to flexible interpretation. The states that have implemented debt relief in recent years have either limited the same credit extended by Cooperative Banks (Punjab) or restricted it to a certain outstanding amount (Rs1-5 lakh in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Maharashtra). Besides, they have imposed eligibility conditions that exclude, for instance, farmers who have filed income tax returns or have family members with government jobs. But such dithering may not be easy especially when April-May 2019 isn't far away.
A more difficult promise to meet is paying paddy farmers a minimum support price of Rs 2,500 per quintal, which is more than the Rs 1,750 rate fixed by the Centre. That, given an annual paddy procurement of nearly 50 lakh tones from Chhattisgarh, would cost the state exchequer a whopping Rs 3,750 crores. And since the kharif marketing season is already underway, this money will have to be paid well in time to reap the electoral award. In MP too, Congress faces a similar pressure of implementing a Rs 500 quintal bonus on soyabean and maize that was announced by outgoing Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led BJP government. The estimated cost of this, on expected sales of 28 lakh tonnes of soyabean and 16 lakh tonnes of maize in mandis across the state, is Rs 2,200 crore, to be paid after the end of marketing season next month. Political exigency may leave the new dispensation with little choice but to foot the bill.
The unfortunate by-product of such political competition are the policies that will eventually harm the farmer. How is his cause going to be served through unrealistic MSPs that drive away the private trade or loan waiver that will discourage banks from extending further credit? This is where K Chandrasekhar Rao government in Telangana holds promise. Under its Rythu Bandhu Scheme, farmers are given a flat Rs 4000 per-acre-per season support. The best thing about the scheme is that it is not distorting the market. Farmers will be paid the subsidy directly, irrespective of which crop they grow or whatever be the market prices. Yes, it is a matter of detail. For now, the good news is that Rythu Bandhu has also paid political dividends.
(The views expressed are strictly personal)