Bhopal: The Congress’s farm loan waiver scheme, which had turned out to be a game-changer in Assembly elections, and had toppled 15-year-old Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Madhya Pradesh, has yielded bitter harvest for the good old party in the Lok Sabha polls, election data suggests.
In the first three months of the Congress government in the state, it claimed to have waived farm loan of 21 lakh farmers. It’s apparent, however, that not only the farmers who are yet to get the benefit, but also most of the farmers, whose loans have already been waived, seem to have chosen BJP over Congress.
Addressing a rally on June 6, 2018 in Mandsaur, the epicentre of farmers’ protest, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had made a groundbreaking announcement, saying that the Congress government, if elected, would waive farm loans worth less than Rs 2 lakh within 10 days of the government formation. The move turned out to be a game-changer, and Congress succeeded in toppling the BJP government in the state.
The scheme is expected to benefit about 50 lakh farmers, costing more than Rs 5,00,000 crore to the state exchequer. Hours after swearing in as the chief minister of the state, Kamal Nath had passed the order to set the wheels in motion for the loan waiver. Till the Model Code of Conduct was imposed by the Election Commission, the government had reportedly waived farm loan of 21 lakh farmers, and had promised to resume it after the elections.
To counter Congress’s claim, the BJP chalked out a strategy soon after the Assembly poll debacle. With farmers comprising more than 72% of MP’s electorate, the saffron party had to find a way around.
So, BJP’s senior leaders including former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan started claiming that Congress has “betrayed farmers” in the name of loan waiver. The BJP’s narrative hit home. And hit hard.
The Nath government had said that the first 21 lakh beneficiaries were spread across all the 52 districts of Madhya Pradesh, and sent text messages to the rest of the farmers assuring that their loans would be waived after the elections. Gandhi and Nath kept mentioning the waiver in their speeches, but it appears that it remained ineffective in the face of the BJP’s allegation of ‘betrayal of farmers’.
Soon after Nath signed the loan waiver files, Chouhan set the narrative by going around asking farmers if they had “got Rs 2 lakh in their accounts yet”. “Many of these 21 lakh farmers had not received the money because of procedural delays, so, the BJP started a campaign in rural MP, saying that the Congress government failed to keep its promise,” a senior leader revealed.
Then, PM Narendra Modi and Chouhan hardened the narrative by repeatedly accusing the Congress government of cheating the farmers. It struck a chord among those who were yet to get the benefit.
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By the time Congress realised the undercurrent sweeping through the farmers, it was too late. Congress sent two jeeploads of loan waiver documents to Chouhan’s home after the end of the fifth round of voting. Chouhan brushed it aside, and stuck to his “farmers’ betrayal” story. The Rahul Gandhi and CM Nath even read out the names of the former Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s kin, whose farm loans have been waived, during a rally in Ujjain, but all went in vain.
To counter Congress, Modi came out with another narrative, accusing Kamal Nath of failing to submit to the Union government a list of farmers who may benefit from the ‘money-in-the-bank’ plan. The fact that PM Modi and former CM Chouhan were accusing Congress of lying lent weight to the strategy.
In Indore and Ujjain division, farming is the main occupation in 45 of the 66 Assembly segments. Congress rode the waiver wave to win 35 seats (up from just 11) in these parts in 2018.
On the eve of the counting day, CM Kamal Nath wrote to Chouhan, saying, “Because of elections, you have been denying the truth. But since the elections have ended now, you and BJP should accept the truth about the loan waiver.” After the landslide victory of the BJP, it hardly matters whether Chouhan accepts it or not.
Four months after winning the Assembly elections and forming a government in the state, Congress has managed to win only one seat out of the 29 parliamentary constituencies, while the BJP wrested all 28 seats with a massive margin.
Will continue loan waiver: Congress minister
A day after Congress was routed in the Lok Sabha polls, Cabinet Minister Jitu Patwari told the press that the BJP won by seeking votes in the name of nationalism, and that the state government will resume the farm loan waiver scheme.
“The waiver scheme has benefited a lot of farmers, and it will be continued with positivity, but the BJP lied to the people by saying that farm loans are just hoax just to gain votes,” he said.
The minister said that the party had hoped to capitalise on the farm loan waiver and do well in rural and farmer-dominated regions, but it could not happen because of the “BJP leaders’ lies”.
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