New Delhi: In a move to win the support of farmers in the upcoming Madhya Pradesh (MP) elections, the Congress is considering direct income support as a poll promise in its election manifesto. With this unique proposal, which follows interactions with farmer groups, the party is attempting to woo them by promising a degree of income security to rural households.

Out of power for nearly a decade-and-a-half in the state, the move is significant as it could add to Congress’s electoral narrative stitched around the issue of farm and rural distress. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has already committed to a loan waiver scheme if voted to power in Madhya Pradesh that goes to polls later this year.

“Currently the party is discussing proposals to provide farm households an amount of 3,000 per month per family which can take care of critical household expenses like education and healthcare at a time when incomes are uncertain," said a person aware of the development.

“The promised income support is likely to be over and above a promised waiver of crop loans," the person said.

Madhya Pradesh is home to 9.8 million farmers of which 6.3 million are small and marginal farmers owning less than five acres of land. An income support of 3,000 per month per farm household, limited to only small and marginal farmers, will cost the exchequer close to 23,000 crore in a year. Total outstanding crop loans taken by farmers in Madhya Pradesh till March 2018 is a staggering 75,823 crore, shows data from the state-level banker’s committee.

In May, the Telangana government launched a direct income support of 8,000 per acre per year for all farm households, a first by any state. Senior Congress leaders said that the model they are considering in Madhya Pradesh is loosely based on Telangana.

So far, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state governments in Madhya Pradesh and Haryana had launched their own price support schemes where farmers are compensated financially when they sell their crops at less than central government mandated minimum support prices.

Since June last year, following a collapse in wholesale crop prices due to record harvests, farmers in several states took to the streets demanding remunerative prices and loan waivers. On 6 June 2017, five protesting farmers died in police firing in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, prompting the state government to launch a price support scheme for pulses and oilseeds.

Following country-wide protests, several states, including Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan, announced loan waivers and stepped up procurement of crops at support prices.

With a farm focus, Congress wants to corner Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan-led BJP government over the issue.

“We have discussed this proposal internally and we are considering if it can be promised in our election manifesto. Some leaders have raised concerns over fiscal angle but if there is a general consensus we will go ahead with it," a senior party functionary from the state involved in the campaign, said requesting anonymity.

The leader said the manifesto will have a key focus on farm-related issues.

In the run-up to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Congress plans to make rural and farm distress its key poll plank. In its plenary session meeting earlier this year it was decided that a ‘loan waiver scheme for all small and marginal farmers’ on the pattern of the farm loan waiver programme of the United Progressive Alliance government in 2009 would be its key promise.

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