'What About Unfulfilled Promises?' As Congress Guarantees NYAY, Farmers Wonder if It's Just Another Poll Sop
Apart from NYAY, the Congress promises to waive the outstanding loan of farmers and end non-payment of loans as a criminal offence. It also promises to introduce a separate 'Kisan budget' to prioritise issues affecting the agriculture sector.
Representative image (Reuters)
New Delhi: The Congress’ aim to stick to a narrative focused on the poor, the farmers and the country’s problem of unemployment for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, has come to hinge itself upon the party’s flagship scheme, NYAY. Giving headway to a powerful idea of guaranteed minimum income, Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY), promises to transfer Rs 72,000 annually to 20% of families in the poorest of the poor category.
The idea was first announced by Rahul Gandhi in his highly publicised rally in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh last year. The party made this promise its central plank during campaigns for the Assembly elections in the three heartland states - Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan - all of which it went on to win.
The grand old party has been particularly ferocious in accusing the NDA government of pushing the agriculture sector into a crisis through policies like demonetisation and its crop insurance scheme. So, in the Congress’ 55-page manifesto, titled ‘Congress will deliver’, the party made a conscious attempt to contrast itself with this alleged failure of the BJP to deliver on its election promises, and offered a slew of populist, welfare expenditures aimed at addressing the ongoing farmers’ crisis.
While introducing his manifesto the Congress president talked about a promise, which he described as a 'historical' step of introducing changes in the legal system, to ensure that failure to pay bank loans by farmers be considered a civil offence instead of a criminal one. The Congress also promised a separate 'Kisan budget', replacing private crop insurance companies with public undertakings, and a number of other measures like setting up various commissions to study and work out solutions to the issues ailing Indian farmers.
But do all these promises cut any ice with the farmers on ground? News18 spoke to a number of farmers, their leaders and agricultural experts to understand how the Congress' pro-farmer message has percolated on ground, and whether it is likely to make an impact in the days to come.
We first spoke to Kakkaji, one of the people behind the farmer protests of June 2017 in Madhya Pradesh. It was the first public display of the brewing resentment in the rural society against the then ruling BJP government. "I don't think it will have a big impact on ground. All parties think the farmers are a vote bank. But the fact is, in the last 72 years no government has done enough for the farmers,” Kakkaji says.
He also thinks that Gandhi’s promise of changing provisions of loan default from a criminal to a civil offence is 'hot air'. “Loan defaults are already treated mostly as civil offences," Kakkaji, who heads a body of nearly 200 farmer bodies, he says.
Farmers have two basic demands, he explains, a complete loan waiver and the full implementation of the Swaminathan report. “BJP promised to implement the latter, but not only did they not implement it, they went to Supreme Court and in an affidavit claimed that they could not do it.”
"You have to understand that the farmer doesn't become financially burdened because of his own follies. You increased the cost of fertilisers, diesel, and petrol, but did not increase the MSP (Minimum Support Price) to farmers in the same proportion,” Kakkaji says.
“In fact, our demand is that all political leaders, irrespective of the party, who fail to implement the promised measures should be sent to jail,” he adds.
He also said that the demands of a monthly income/pension for the farmer has not been put on paper yet. However, Kakkaji was of the opinion that the Congress’ NYAY scheme has yielded an impact among farmers. “There has been an impact, a limited one I should say. But people are talking about NYAY.”
The secretary of All India Kisan Sabha, CPI (M)'s farmer outfit, which recently conducted two hugely publicised farmer marches from Nashik to Mumbai and Hannan Mollah, stood by Kakkaji's views that the NYAY scheme is likely to have a limited impact on ground.
He, however, has his reservations. "What Modi promised was a joke. A daily sum of Rs 15 for a family of five becomes Rs 3 per member per day. Now with NYAY scheme, too, I'm not sure how many people will be covered and how. But I see it as an expression of interest, which in itself is not a bad thing," he says.
Devinder Sharma is an agriculture and trade policy analyst, who was one of the experts consulted by the Congress while formulating its farmers’ policy. He says he's happy that the cause of providing a stipulated monthly income to the farmers has been taken up by the Congress in a 'big way'.
"For the past 10 years I have been shouting hoarse that direct income support is what Indian farmers need. I am delighted that finally a major national party has accepted this demand. Several economists who are now calling NYAY a masterstroke would earlier laugh at me when I proposed this idea,” Sharma says.
“I think that the agriculture section of Congress' manifesto reads like a green budget because some provisions like making this commission (on marginal farmers and agricultural labour) will go a long way in improving the lives of India's farmers,” he adds.
Addressing criticisms around how such a huge program - of providing a yearly income of Rs 72,000 to the poorest 25 crore Indians - is unviable in the absence of credible data, Sharma says, "if Ayushman Bharat can provide a healthcare support to 40% poorest Indians, why can't this scheme work in the same manner?"
However, political disillusionment brews in some quarters and a sense of being cheated prevails. Such farmers and their leaders, who are dejected by both Congress and BJP, are calling for farmers country-wide to opt for NOTA to express their anger. One such disenchanted farmer leader is VM Singh. He is the convener of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which has held multiple farmer rallies, with the most recent one being in Delhi's Ramlila Maidan.
"Rahul Gandhi promised a complete loan waiver and full implementation of the Swaminathan commission report, both of which only finds a fleeting mention in his party's manifesto. Either you make a promise entirely, or you don't. When these people are not going to be there for us why should we be there for them? This is why I feel that the only option before us is to en-masse opt for NOTA,” he says.
The Congress slept on the Swaminathan commission report for seven-and-a-half years and then just before the 2014 election they remembered it, he says, adding that being taken granted by political parties has left the farmers 'totally dejected'.
RSS's farmer outreach, the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) is also unhappy with the Congress' promises. "The Congress doesn't have a track record of keeping their promises. Loan waiver is only for the 10% who can't pay their loans. What about the rest who can pay? There is nothing in the budget for them? Why should a farmer be in debt in the first place? Congress should think about this first,” says BKS' national secretary.
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