Dr Ajit Nawale, state general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha and the man behind the success of the ‘long march’ to Mumbai, has seen the plight of farmers firsthand. He speaks to The Indian Express about the recently-announced loan waiver granted by the state government. Excerpts:
You have been critical of the loan waiver granted by the newly-formed Uddhav Thackeray government. What are your major concerns?
The loan waiver announced by the newly-formed state government has some cardinal flaws. To begin with, it has made farmers with more than Rs 2 lakh crop loan ineligible, which effectively debars a large section of farmers who need it. The waiver is silent about farmers who repay their loan regularly. The government is all set to bring about another one-time settlement scheme for farmers whose outstanding loan is over Rs 2 lakh. In the guise of this settlement, the government plans to bring about another cycle of loan repayment. It seems that the present scheme is as bad as the one announced by the erstwhile Devendra Fadnavis government. This scheme will benefit only 30 to 40 per cent farmers in the state and will leave a large chunk of farmers out. In fact, the same section of farmers, which had benefited from the last waiver, stands to gain from the present one.
The message that seems to have gone out is that farmers regular in repaying loans are at a loss. How do you respond to the opinion that the government is subsidising farmers at the cost of the taxpayer?
Unfortunately, the government is creating a wave in favour of loan default. When the government talks of loan waivers, those who are regular in their repayment have second thoughts about repaying their loan. Also, basic financial institutions like primary agricultural cooperative societies, district central cooperative banks, stand to lose heavily if this persists. However, the thought that the urban taxpayer is being used to subsidise the farm sector is completely wrong. It is the other way round: all the subsidies given to the farm sector are to ensure easy and cheap availability of agricultural produce for the urban vote bank. Export and import policies have made the availability of cheap agricultural produce possible for corporations. Loan waiver is aimed at correcting this historic wrong. It’s because of wrong policies of the government that farmers are suffering. Also, when it comes to loan default, statistics have proved that corporate loan default is higher than that of agricultural loan.
The rise of the new wave of farmers, at the forefront of various movements, came about in 2017 and 2018. Traditionally, it has been seen that farmers have been divided by caste, creed and religion. Do you think that farmers are finally on their way to forming a collective identity? Will this play a prominent part in the days to come?
Yes, it is a welcome move that a new generation of farmers has risen for whom their identity as farmer is important above all else. Such people took the reins of movements like the farmer’s strike or the long march into their hands. If you see social media, they are at the forefront of analysing policies and are coming up with studied critique. For them, the injustice meted out to their older generations is more than enough to break the traditional mould. This is a good sign.
With a new and collective leadership rising among farmers, what is the role of leaders such as yourself?
We have seen, during the course of the farmers’ strike in 2017, that the younger generation of farmers is more than capable of taking things into their own hands. When some other leaders tried breaking up the strike, they were cast aside by youngsters who kept the momentum going. The All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti — the umbrella organisation of farmers’ movements — is a sign of cohesion. I am confident that the younger generation will develop and mature their identity as farmer and will play an important role in the days to come.
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