The announcement of a loan waiver package of Rs 34,000 crore for farmers was accompanied by political diplomacy adopted by the BJP-led state government to mute protests from alliance partner Shiv Sena, and bring onboard the warring farmers’ groups and the Opposition Congress and NCP. The Shiv Sena and the Opposition had been demanding a “full” loan waiver for the farmers.
While the loan waiver announcement set the stage for celebrations in the BJP and the Sena, protests continued in the Opposition ranks. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “If farmers’ interest is served, why should anybody protest.” The partyline was that if anybody persists with protests even after the loan waiver, it should be seen as sheer politics.
While the Sena and the BJP were engaged in drawing up a strategy to claim credit for the loan waiver, Congress and NCP leaders cautioned that the write-off was not going to help all the 1.36 crore farmers. The implication was that not only marginal farmers, but even prosperous farmers should be considered for the waiver, an exercise that would have required Rs 1.14 lakh crore.
Fadnavis said, “Our endeavour would be to provide more support to farmers to avail the loan waiver so that they emerge financially stronger.” The last two weeks saw the state government adopting political diplomacy to bring onboard its critics to push the loan waiver. A core committee was constituted, led by Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil, to open discussions with parties.
The government reached out to individual leaders to explain the loan waiver, including NCP president Sharad Pawar, Congress’ Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray. Several farmers’ leaders too held a series of one-to-one meetings with the chief minister. Simultaneously, core committee ministers kept the farmers’ groups engaged in talks.
Earlier, on June 2, the chief minister had declared a loan waiver at 4 am at his official residence Varsha. This was after a marathon five-hour meeting with the farmers’ groups that had resorted to strike to seek a loan waiver, among other demands. However, the farmers’ groups failed to strike a consensus and continued to voice their reservations on the loan waiver.
The biggest challenge for the BJP was to win over ally Shiv Sena, which was using the farmers’ protest to enhance its electoral base in rural Maharashtra. In the last two weeks, the chief minister met Thackeray once and held telephonic conversation with him thrice. The BJP also gave consent to its demand for raising the ceiling of the loan waiver from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1.5 lakh.