The Congress Poll Budget: Rs. 60,000 Crore Fraud on Farmers

Armed with a deceitful declaration of a Rs. 60,000 crore debt relief package for the suicide-bound farmers of India, the Congress is out to use the agrarian crisis as its biggest poll weapon in the coming general elections. But this grandest highlight of this year’s budget has nothing to do with the actual allocations made by the Finance Minister in his budget. When the Finance Minister announces a Rs. 105,000 crore defence budget he accounts for every single rupee going into this huge sum and the revised expenditure almost always exceeds the budgeted amount. When he doles out a massive tax bonanza for the corporate sector, he is meticulous in his calculations. But announcements concerning agriculture and the peasantry are typically only statements of intent or policy directives. In previous budgets the Finance Minister talked about doubling the institutional credit flow into agriculture which never happened and now he talks about extending loan waiver or debt relief benefits to four crore farmers!

Considering the very limited access that small and marginal farmers have to institutional credit (estimated at not more than 20 per cent of their total debt) and the very small proportion of unpaid loans (as low as 5%), the claim of the government ‘doling out’ as much as Rs. 60,000 crore as debt relief can only be described as a gigantic fraud on the farming community. The story of farm loans is indeed so very different from that of corporate debt. The corporates transform bank loans into their ‘own capital’ leaving the banks burdened over the years with a huge amount of unrealised corporate debt, termed Non Performing Asset. Yet one will never hear about banks using strong-arm tactics to recover corporate debt or any indebted industrialist being driven to suicide whereas indebted farmers often have to repay their loans with their own lives. The Congress will have to answer why it had to wait for the final pre-election budget to announce the debt-relief package even as tens of thousands of indebted farmers kept committing suicides year after year.

Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi have already embarked on a competitive propaganda blitzkrieg to reap the presumed electoral benefits of the pretentious loan waiver. Meanwhile, in the course of parliamentary deliberation on the budget, Rahul Gandhi pleaded for extension of the loan waiver to farmers with bigger holdings, especially in low-productivity areas. And now Sonia Gandhi mentions this ‘recommendation’ in her rallies. Earlier after his anointment as an AICC General Secretary, Rahul Gandhi had called for extension of the NREGA to the whole country and the present budget has fulfilled his wish, never mind if the allocation per district has gone down drastically in the process. Perhaps according to the script, the scope of the loan waiver is also set to be enlarged in the final version of the budget is finalised. What better way can there be to package the Gandhi-Nehru scion for the rural electorate. Ironically, while the Congress is grooming Rahul Gandhi, the BJP’s best bet is trying to repackage himself with his mammoth memoirs!

Meanwhile, ‘Padma Vibhushan’ Pranab Mukherjee is busy giving finishing touches to the nuke deal with the US. Following negotiation with the IAEA, the government is now all set to knock the doors of the Nuclear Suppliers Group. Like the infamous Dunkel Draft that presaged the arrival of the WTO, the nuke deal too is now being sought to be presented as a fait accompli. “We can neither mend nor end the deal,” says the External Affairs Minister. Meanwhile, other dimensions of the Indo-US strategic partnership are also being rapidly put in place, leaving India virtually tied to a US-led ‘Greater Asia’. Allowing Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US Congress, to lead a delegation to the Dalai Lama, has been another clear indication that India is already behaving like a US satellite in south Asia.

With elections approaching, one can also see some emerging signs of political realignment. The trends are perhaps best mirrored in the ongoing parleys for Rajya Sabha elections. In Bihar the Congress has brokered a peace accord between the RJD and the LJP while signs of a Congress-Samajwadi Party ‘reconciliation’ are also not difficult to see in UP. It is interesting to see the SP suspend one of its MLAs in Madhya Pradesh for alleging that the Congress had offered him a huge sum to buy his vote! If the Congress is able to befriend the SP it could amount to killing two birds with one stone – the BSP will get preoccupied saving its throne in UP while the CPI(M)’s ‘third front’ may well remain permanently hung in mid-air!
There is however an actor that has the potential to make the grand Congress script go awry. The people of India who had pricked the “India Shining” balloon of the NDA are perfectly capable of teaching a similar lesson to the Congress fraudsters.

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