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India’s Farm Loan Waivers – Buying Votes, Pure And Simple

India has long been a poster boy for the contention that buying votes is both easy and not a good idea. The bad idea being that the repeated elections mean that votes are often bought, to the general detriment of state and more general finances. That it’s easy by the manner in which people do keep getting elected by promising things.

One group notably favoured by such vote buying being the country’s farmers. They’re alarmingly poor, normal enough for such a poor country. They’re thus pretty cheap to buy, or at least their votes are. Promise a more favourable water allocation, perhaps free electricity to run the irrigation pumps and they’re yours. For this election at least. Obviously, at some point, offers have to go beyond that, like, say, why not just wipe out all loans that anyone has taken against their land?

A constable from Hubli was suspended for putting up Facebook posts against Karnataka CM H.D. Kumaraswamy. The constable questioned when Kumaraswamy will resign as he has not waived farmer loans even after all these days of being CM. Hubli Commissioner M N Nagaraj passed the suspension order after the post became viral. The Janata Dal (Secular) had promised to waive off Rs 53,000 crore farm loans in its election manifesto.

Do note that following the promise they were indeed elected.

The Karnataka chief minister on Sunday had requested the centre to foot half the bill of Rs53,000 crore farm loan waiver to support the farmers in the state.

On Monday, Kumaraswamy wrote to Union home minister Rajnath Singh seeking higher allocation for disaster relief. “As far as the state disaster relief fund (SDRF) allocation is concerned, Karnataka has been allocated only Rs1,527 crore for a five-year period from 2015-16 to 2019-20, whereas other states such as Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have been allocated Rs8,195 crore, Rs6,094 crore, Rs4,847 crore and Rs3,394 crore, respectively. Hence, the state government had requested for enhancement of SDRF allocation to Rs3,050.72 crore,” he wrote.

Isn’t that a classic part of a political promise? Say anything in order to gain election, work out how to pay for it afterwards. For yes, political promises are cheap. You only have to follow through if you do win and who wouldn’t prefer to win and gain power anyway?

Just to show that this really is all about politics and the buying of votes, here’s how that request for national subsidy of the local votes is playing out nationally:

Till now, the Modi government has ruled out the idea of a Centre-sponsored farm loan waiver. Union finance minister Arun Jaitley has said more than once that the union government isn’t ready for a farm loan waiver programme and that states will have to bear the burden should they choose to go for it.

But, that scenario could change in the final year of this NDA government if a) monsoons fail this year b) Congress-led opposition parties step-up their street fight against the Modi-government, painting it as anti-farmer, citing the centre’s continuing reluctance to take part in loan waiver programmes.

If there are national votes to be bought then perhaps the national state will indeed fund the loan wavers.

Yes, such subsidies are simple vote buying. But we shouldn’t be too hard on Indian politicians here. All politics works like this. Jeremy Corbyn telling the youngsters that their student loans will be abolished – nothing more than the purchase of the votes of people with student loans. All politics is like this. I’ll buy you something with the money of that person over there, vote for me!

Depressing but true.

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5 years ago

“All politics is like this.”
Tim – I respectfully disagree. Mine is the opposite; “I want you to keep more of what you earn.”

And I was elected three times.

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