Mumbai: Opposition parties in Maharashtra continued to protest throughout the budget speech in the state legislature on Saturday, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government feels it has won a major victory by not yielding to pressure on waiver of farm loans.
The BJP is also relieved that Shiv Sena legislators did not join the protest, after chief minister Devendra Fadnavis persuaded Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray not to join the opposition. By presenting a farmer-oriented budget in which the agriculture sector got a whopping Rs14,000 crore, the government feels it has mollified the Shiv Sena and bought itself some time to come up with an alternative to farm debt waiver.
Last week, Thackeray had asked Sena legislators to step up pressure on the BJP-led government, even if it meant stalling the legislative proceedings.
Taking the cue, Shiv Sena legislators and even ministers virtually joined the opposition in both Houses in support of the demand. On 16 March, Thackeray asked his ministers to demand a solution within two days. Fadnavis announced in the house that he would lead a delegation to the centre to discuss farm debt waiver.
“As both the chief minister and finance minister stated on Saturday, the state government is working with the Centre on a relief scheme that aims at bringing the indebted farmers back into the system of institutional credit. The Centre feels that giving loan waiver to one state at this stage will lead to other states making similar demand. On Uttar Pradesh, the Centre has already clarified that the new BJP government there will bear the full responsibility of farm loan waiver,” said a senior BJP minister who did not wish to be named.
The minister said Fadnavis’s decision to lead a delegation including senior Shiv Sena ministers to Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on 17 March helped to get the ally on board. “While the delegation achieved little by way of concrete measures on farm loan waiver, the Shiv Sena ministers in the delegation were persuaded by Jaitley to wait and give the Centre and state some time. To be fair to the Sena ministers, they saw the sense in not stretching this too far. Jaitley said the Centre was keen on giving relief to farmers but the assistance should be focused and not against the credit discipline,” the minister said.
Shiv Sena leader and state transport minister Diwakar Raote, who was part of the delegation, told reporters later that the “Centre could not take such a big decision in a single day for one particular state and it will have to be given some time.” Eknath Shinde, another senior Sena minister who met Jaitley, said Fadnavis had explained the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra to the Union finance minister “in a very credible and effective manner to convince the Centre that farmers in Maharashtra deserved big assistance”.
That the Sena had diluted its stand on the loan waiver issue became apparent on Saturday when Sena leader and minister of state for finance Deepak Kesarkar himself presented the budget in the legislative council. Two days before budget, Kesarkar had joined the Sena protest on the legislature premises for farm debt waiver.
As the budget session proceedings resume on Monday, the BJP is hoping for a smooth sailing. “The first part of the session was completely dominated by farm loan waiver with hardly any business being transacted. We feared that even the budget might not be allowed to be read out if Shiv Sena continued to support the opposition demand. Congress and NCP may still continue to protest but there is no sting in their protest without Shiv Sena’s participation,” said another BJP minister requesting anonymity.