It is not surprising that Karnataka Assembly speaker struck a jarring note on the farm loan waiver that Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy had promised during electioneering and allocated Rs 34,000 crore for mitigating the acute problems faced by the debt-ridden farming community.
Speaker KR Ramesh Kumar had on the eve of budget presentation on Wednesday sounded a note of caution that loan waiver should not become a ‘fashion’. His barb aimed at the chief minister, coming after AICC president Rahul Gandhi had cleared the full budget and loan waiver scheme of Kumaraswamy against the wishes of the Karnataka Congressmen, should be ringing alarm bells among the leaders of the ruling coalition.
Rahul Gandhi had given the green signal to the farm loan waiver, but with a rider that the burden should not lead to harming the state’s financial situation.
What the chief minister has done is to mop up some revenues by increasing the taxes on petroleum products and hiked tax on electricity tariff, in tune with the advice from the top boss of the party that is propping up his government.
In the wafer-thin majority government, that can get destabilised by a handful of disgruntled MLAs of either of the two coalition partners, the Speaker assumes a powerful position and his words of caution ought to be taken seriously by the Congress and the Janata Dal-Secular leadership.
Coming amid reports and assertions by Opposition leader BS Yeddyurappa that seven Congress MLAs were in touch with him, the Speaker’s advice that ‘farm loan waiver should not become a fashion’ could be read as a warning.
Incidentally, the Speaker also acted tough on the missing ministers in the assembly and sought to instil greater discipline, showing who the boss of the house was.
Ramesh had intervened during the motion of thanks to the Governor’s address to the budget session in the assembly to question why farm loan waiver was becoming something of a fashion rather than making farmers capable of paying back – that is by increasing their real income from farming activities.
Ramesh belongs to the Congress party, the larger partner in coalition, which itself is witnessing pulls and pressures as also there are disgruntled elements among the JD-S.
The BJP, of course, is waiting for these fissures to widen and pounce on them to fell the government and hope to force elections to the state along with the Lok Sabha general elections, due in May next year.
It was, perhaps, with this objective in mind that senior mining baron and BJP leader B Sriramulu cornered the government with a focussed attack on the absence of mention of farm loan waiver in the Governor’s address. He reminded the treasury benches that farm loan waiver was a poll promise made by the chief minister during campaigning.
The BJP had also started a protest against the “government’s failure to announce farm loan waiver immediately after assuming charge” in a clear-cut indication as to where and how the attack on the coalition government would come from.
All the political parties have used the farm loan waiver as a potent poll plank, whether it was the BJP in recent Uttar Pradesh elections or the Congress in the Punjab polls when it wrested the state from the Akali Dal-BJP combine. But even after a year, the Punjab government is struggling to come true on its poll promise as no financial help is coming through from the Centre.
But to be fair to the Centre, it has asked even the UP government to find resources for its loan waiver scheme that Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had begun implementing in the state. But both in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the implementation of the scheme has left a lot to be desired. The farmer in the process remains cheated.
In Karnataka too, the farm loan waiver comes with a rider. The government would waive off loans of only up to Rs 2 lakh and as of now, there was no clarity on what will happen to those loans that were over and above this amount.