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In Karnataka, Netas Rush to Score Points Over Farm Loan Waiver

It all began with Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s statement on Thursday that loan waivers “have become a fashion statement.”

Deepa Balakrishnan | CNN-News18deepab18

Updated:June 23, 2017, 8:44 PM IST
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In Karnataka, Netas Rush to Score Points Over Farm Loan Waiver
A farmer sowing paddy in his field. (Representative image)
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Bengaluru: The Karnataka government’s latest brahmastra in wooing the voter – its farm loan waiver of Rs 8,165 crores – has proved to be embarrassing for the Opposition BJP: not just because it was stopped in its tracks while planning a massive farmers’ rally, but also because the BJP’s national leaders are singing a totally different tune that left many in the State leadership red-faced.

It all began with Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu’s statement on Thursday that loan waivers “have become a fashion statement.”

“Loans should be waived only in extreme situations. It is not a final solution. You need to take care of the system along with the farmer,” Naidu had said at an event in New Delhi, a day after the Congress government in Karnataka announced a waiver for all loans from state cooperative banks.

The previous day, the BJP had been gloating. Just an hour after Chief Minister Siddaramaiah’s announcement on Wednesday, the BJP’s Karnataka president B S Yeddyurappa had welcomed the waiver ecstatically, even claiming credit for it.

Yeddyurappa, who had been threatening to lead a farmers’ rally in early July if loan waivers weren’t announced, said it was the BJP’s persistent demands that had led to the Congress regime bending.

And like many others in his party, the party president was left wondering what their stand should be when their party. A confused General Secretary C T Ravi was forced to defend his bosses at the Centre and the State – saying the “context in which Naidu made these statements” is different.

For the BJP, that Naidu was, until recently, a Rajya Sabha MP from Bengaluru and even a voter here, must have doubly hurt.

It certainly gave the Congress ground to ridicule the BJP, at least for a day.

“They (BJP) call themselves sons of farmers. They say they wanted to make me waive loans even if they have to hold me by the scruff of the neck to do so. Will they go hold the PM by the scruff of his neck and get the Centre to waive loans from nationalised banks?” Siddaramaiah thundered at a press conference on Friday, calling Yeddyurappa a ‘dhongi’ (pretend/ fraud) farmer leader.

It was an easy dare – the state government has waived loans of cooperative banks – which constitute just 20 per cent of all farm loans. Loans of nationalised banks are estimated at over 42,000 crores – nearly 80 per cent of the lot. The Centre wouldn’t do this on a whim, and certainly not when five other States have also sought loan waivers. It just cannot afford to.

The Janata Dal (Secular) too had a field day over the wishy-washy statements of the BJP. JDS State president H D Kumaraswamy, who also attempted to appropriate credit for the loan waiver, questioned how the BJP found only farm loan waivers sarcastically fashionable, and not waiver of loans by corporate entities. “Does he not know what the impact of those waivers will be, on the economy,” he asked.

It isn't as if these netas don't entirely agree with Naidu. Both the Congress and the JDS realises that loan waivers are bad economics—agriculture experts have time and again talked of better crop insurance systems and the importance of making farmers self-reliant, by ensuring good incomes. There have even been instances of farmers who take loans, just to wait for waivers during election time. Siddaramaiah himself had, just two months ago, said there was no question of waiving loans.

Yet, he did just that, and the Congress wants to live in the glory of the moment, well aware of the financial setback.

The BJP, belatedly, is trying to shrug itself off from the issue.

“This controversy only serves to help other parties make a political point for a couple of days. Today people may think about this. Tomorrow, we will make some other speech and people will think about that,” said Ravi.

They are, of course, hoping that this would be far from public memory by April 2018, when people will go out to vote. There are 285 days more to go.
| Edited by: Puja Menon
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