It’s people’s money, not mine, yaar!

Farm Loan Waivers

By Poonam I Kaushish

It was a perfect electoral cake rolled out by the Congress
to the strains of ‘Vote For Me.’ Iced with luscious lip-smacking loan waiver for the debt-ridden kisan. Wherein, sound economic sense was surrendered to political gamesmanship with reckless abundant as a populist sop yields better electoral rewards than reasoned issues and sustainable programmes. Who cares? After all in rajniti, public funds translate into netas spending our money!
Predictably, post victory in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh the Congress with a flourish waived of farmers loans of Rs 38,000 crores, Rs 18,000 crores and Rs 6,100 crores respectively. BJP-ruled Assam followed with Rs 600 crores and Jharkhand, as had Maharashtra earlier writing of Rs 34,500 crores.
Then the blame game started. While Prime Minister Modi blamed the Congress for the agrarian crisis in the country, Congress’s Rahul asserted he will not let NaMo sleep until all farms loans have been waived. It is another matter the Niti Aayog went against the grain giving a thumbs down to the farm loan waivers as it aids just 10-15% of farmers and the rest don’t have access to institutional loans. “It is a deadly poison, it’s a wrong way of addressing the real issue,” added a bank Chief
Raising a moot point: Where do they get monies to fund these doles? Obviously, by taxing us, the people. Should our hard-earned tax money be used to boost a Parties electoral votebanks? Shouldn’t leaders or their Parties pay for it from their pockets or funds? Should loans be waived?
Notably, given the economic logic that there is no such thing as a free lunch, a populist scheme is invariably paid for either in the form of higher taxes or increasing inflation. Underscoring that what ails India and its burgeoning poor is not poverty, which can be corrected, but the ruthless heartlessness of our netagan who not only lack humility but also empathy for the garib. Worse, it exposes their sheer ennui and paucity of ideas along-with accentuating their moral bankruptcy. And a perspective completely divorced from reality.
True, it can be argued netas are obliged to be seen as populist in the no-holds-barred free-for-all electoral race, as it would be stupid to wish away political lollipops to entice the electorate. But do our narcissist leaders need to act like modern-day feudal maharajas? Whereby, they expect the aam janata to prostrate before them and dole out money which doesn’t belong to them.
Certainly it is nobody case that farmers or rural poverty should be ignored. However, the harsh truth is that political promises in the economic sphere should not cross the prudence limits, where it starts hurting the economy as a whole. Notwithstanding, assurances of loan waivers, or cheap rice, free electricity can be justified on the grounds of farmers suicide and acute poverty.
Plainly, we pay taxes for the growth and development of the country, for better educational institutions, health care, hospitals, infrastructure etc. The only long-term solution to the farming crisis lies in a good agriculture policy, boosting labour-intensive industrialisation to absorb excess farm labour and moving to schemes such as Telangana’s Rythu Bandhu which provides investment support to farmers up front. Alongside state of art storage facilities to ensure farmers produce does not rot, cold chains and crop insurance.
Besides, there is always a question to what extent this relief measure helps bring farmers out of indebtedness and suffering. Since waivers are instant temporary relief from debt preventing suicides, it has largely failed to contribute to farmers’ welfare in the long term, filled with lack of proper monitoring, transparency and accountability, reducing the effectiveness of loan waivers. Also, waivers are not a permanent solution for agriculture until fundamental problems are solved.
Given the level of dishonesty, populism and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our politics, these waivers are an invitation to disaster. None sees the danger of economic derailment as the biggest loser are the farmers, poor, weak and under-privileged in whose name many freebies are justified.
By providing free candies to the voters the masses have become dependent on the politicians with the result that there is no true empowerment. This has resulted in the people not being able to critically evaluate their own leaders.
Sadly, there is no agency which can stop public funds from being wasted, despite views expressed by committees. Thus, given the level of dishonesty, populism and irresponsibility which increasingly governs our political system along-with a leech-infested environment of the uundata takes it all, our carpetbaggars refuse to let up.
Making it imperative for us to have a code of governance and conduct of ethics to minimize our polity’s violations of regulations including unjustified misuse of public funds. Time now, for our leaders to realize that populism will only provide immediate succour at the expense of the future. It is no remedy for neglect, faulty priorities in industrialization and under-investment in rural areas.
They need to concentrate on the big picture. Wherein, energies are channelized to address poverty through faster, broad-based growth, supported by well-functioning delivery mechanisms. The effort must be to reduce the number of people in need of handouts.
Pertinently, in the Subramaniam Balaji vs Tamil Nadu Government case in May 2013, the Supreme Court directed the Election Commission to frame guidelines to restrain Parties from promising freebies to voters, so as to maintain a level playing field during elections. “Distribution of freebies shakes the root of free and fair elections to a large degree,” it underscored Even as it observed nothing under Section 123 of The Representation of the People Act barred Parties from promising voters freebies in their manifestos.
With polls due next year, one way is to make it obligatory for Parties to inform the EC where the money will come from to implement the free giveaways and if they will raise taxes, reduce allocation for these programmes once in power.
Two, it would be more beneficial for Parties to offer people permanent solutions to their problem in their election manifestos instead of a slew of seemingly advantageous, but temporary stop-gap measures. Three, the EC needs to penalize Parties who use the quick exploitative mechanism to win people’s votes.
Clearly, care should be taken to draw a distinction between welfarism and populism. Welfarism takes into account the needs of different sections of society as a part of a large development framework. Populism is purely guided by vote banks. Albeit, granting concessions which have no economic rationale and are not part of the larger economic planning, as enunciated by a Government.
Unfortunately, our policy-makers have been unable to perceive the reality of the situation. They have consistently failed to evolve a strategy of development which would take into account our pluralism and fluctuating economic disparities.
It is time now for the netas to realize that liberalization and populism do not go hand in hand. The aam aadmi is no fool. Each populist slogan only accentuates his growing awareness. Public accountability is indispensable in a democratic set-up. A Government cannot afford to throw away public money on private populist whims. The time to draw a ‘lakshman rekha’ on vote bank politics and junk farm loan waivers. What says you? —INFA