In the run-up to Lok Sabha elections 2019, farm politics under Rahul Gandhi is back as the main agenda of Congress.
Kisan politics is back in India with a bang. Congress president Rahul Gandhi announced in Delhi that in case Prime Minister Narendra Modi fails to announce farm loan waiver for the farmers, the Congress would do so if it comes to power in 2019. He also said that Congress would mount pressure on BJP to announce farm loan waivers where they are required.
Rahul's claim came with a taunt that he would not allow the PM to sleep until this demand is met.
This statement comes in the wake of the announcement of farm loan waivers in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan which were wrested away from BJP by Congress in Assembly elections.
Such has been the renewed focus on farm loans that Assam government also announced a loan waiver on Tuesday, and Gujarat waived off rural power bill to the tune of Rs 650 crore on the same day.
Kisan politics dominated Indian politics from Independence till the 1980s when caste-based reservation, economic reforms and Babri Masjid demolition overtook agrarian issues.
Unfortunately, Kisan politics evolved into the caste-based idea of social justice. Traditionally, Kisan movements were led by the OBC leaders who by 1990s were either firmly entrenched in social justice politics or had become mascots of BJP’s Hindutva stance. The example, in this case, is Kalyan Singh.
Loan waivers make for good politics. In 2008, Congress announced a loan waiver and they swept back to power with 200+ seats in Lok Sabha. The state governments who have announced loan waiver post-2014 have all been returned to power in India.
However, the waivers do not benefit all borrowers equally and rich farmers benefit from borrowing more. Moreover, waiver impacts credit culture and makes access to more credit difficult for the farmers.
The loan waivers also put state finances on razor’s edge. The waiver increases fiscal deficit without addressing the core issue. But with Lok Sabha election around the corner, Congress has decided to focus on the agrarian sector. The problem of farm sector is real in India. It is unprofitable and more people are employed than needed. It is this labour which needs to be re-directed to industry from the farming sector for employment. Loans are a short-term relief and do not solve the basic problem of the farming sector.
Ironically, the politics of loan waiver also breaks consensus between BJP and Congress on economic issues which emerged post-1991 when late Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao liberalised the economy. It was done under the aegis of Manmohan Singh who then functioned as country’s finance minister. Liberal economic policies continued till Vajpayee’s tenure but were strongly peppered with social schemes during UPA 1 and 2 when Sonia Gandhi’s writ ran large.
Now it has become farm politics versus industry. This binary can harm India tremendously. One result of such focus is that religious polarisation done by BJP today can only be matched by popular agrarian politics by the Opposition.
Under Rahul Gandhi, the strong left turn in politics and economy has become strong. He cannot be blamed for it. Indian politics over the years has become competitive and partisan. It lacks political consensus on crucial issues. But farm politics under Rahul Gandhi is back as the main agenda of the Congress.
Rahul's Bhatta Parsaul campaign in Uttar Pradesh in 2011 did not work but loan waiver as a political campaign has clicked.
How much will it work for the Congress as a national issue is a tough question to answer but Kisan politics as political debate point is here to stay till 2019. And that is a long shift from an anti-corruption campaign which BJP capitalised during 2014.
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)