The Congress’ biggest poll pitch in the Madhya Pradesh assembly elections last December was a promise to forgive farm loans within 10 days of coming to power.
It helped the party storm to power in the state after a gap of nearly 15 years but just five months on, the issue is back in the spotlight in the ongoing Lok Sabha elections with the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) engaging in a public spat over it.
Voters from constituencies like Ujjain, Indore, Dewas and Dhar, which go to polls in the last phase on Sunday, are split over the promise. While a section of voters complain about tardy implementation of the loan waiver, the over-arching sentiment is that the promise of “delivering in 10 days" should not have been made if it was not practical to achieve.
“Farmers in other villages have got it but we haven’t. Our details were taken but we are yet to hear back. Congress promised to deliver on farm loan waiver within 10 days. They knew this was not possible, still they went ahead and announced it," said Balram Chaudhary, a young 25-year-old farmer from Gunawad village near Dhar.
A large share of Madhya Pradesh’s gross domestic product (GDP) comes from agriculture (over 30% compared to the national average of 17%) and dependence on farming is widespread. The Congress had promised to write off farm loans of up to ₹2 lakh within 10 days of coming to power.
“Our intent was to begin the process in 10 days and we did that. We wanted to bring in a transparent and fair system in place and the scale of the programme is huge. The model code too has slowed the process," said Kedar Sirohi, chief of Congress’ Kisan Cell in Madhya Pradesh.
“We are hopeful of their support to the party. But, we did not promise loan waiver for appeal for vote bank politics—our aim is to uplift the lives of farmers," he added.
While farmers in this region grudgingly accept the Congress’ defence of the waiver having to be suspended because of the model code of conduct (MCC), the BJP has been quick to step up its attack on the Congress. Senior BJP leaders including former chief minster Shivraj Singh Chouhan have made it a key narrative in the Lok Sabha campaign.
The issue took a dramatic turn last week. In response to Chouhan’s claim that Congress has failed to implement the scheme, chief minister Kamal Nath announced on 7 May that his government has cleared loan waivers of over 2.1 million farmers.
Congress leaders engaged in further optics as a delegation reached Chouhan’s official residence in Bhopal and dumped stacks of documents —the proof of written-off loans. Chouhan dismissed it as a “bundle of lies".
On the ground in the constituencies mentioned above, farmers are still pinning hopes that once the model code of conduct is lifted, their loans could be written off. As a result, a section of voters continues to repose their faith in the Congress.
“At least the Congress made a promise and some people have got their loans waived. Credit should be given where it is due and so a lot of farmers continue to support the Congress in this region," said Dev Karan Patel, a farmer from Budhi Barlai near Indore.
In Madhya Pradesh, voting for 21 Lok Sabha constituencies have already taken place and eight more will witness polling on Sunday when Congress’ delivery on loan waiver and BJP’s intense pitch on it will be a key issue.
Voters dependent on farming, however, feel that the loan waiver alone will not solve the problem of farmers and a more holistic approach is needed.
“No party focuses on farmers and their real issues. So many farmers come here each day but there lives have not changed under any government," said Kaalu Singh (30) who works at the Anaj Mandi in Ujjain.
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