At a rally in Rae Bareli, when Sonia Gandhi directed then Union finance minister P Chidambaram to give a loan waiver to farmers, her immediate target must have been the Lok Sabha polls. Five months after winning the general elections, the Congress-NCP alliance's dream to retain its power in Maharashtra depends heavily on that credit cushion.
Maharashtra goes to Assembly polls on October 13.
At a tea stall in Dahegaon village, on the muddy lanes of Waifad (where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made his first visit to assess the situation in Vidarbha on June 30, 2006), inside the homes of Ramnagar everywhere people are talking about the UPA-1's farm loan waiver. It's like the roads in Nitish Kumar's Bihar or free colour TV and rice at Rs 3 a kg in Karunanidhi's Tamil Nadu.
But there is a difference. During the Lok Sabha elections, the aam aadmi of Bihar had all praises for the roads. In Tamil Nadu, too, people hailed the TV sets (cable connection by Maran family's Sun network) and the rice. In the poll-bound Maharashtra's 'suicide zone' of Vidarbha, people are also complaining of disparity, while welcoming the Centre's initiative.
Gautam Dable and Vinod Ronge, two farmers each with 10 acres of land in Yavatmal district, are convinced "western Maharashtra farmers got more benefits. In the Vidarbha region, the per capita land holding is more, and so we didn't get full waiver."
Bandu Bahte is a farmer of Belapur with 18 acres of land. "I got a relief of just Rs 20,000. Now, I had to again take loan for this year's cultivation and my investment stands at Rs 1.25 lakh. But due to the bad rains, I may hardly recover Rs 20,000-25,000 from the crops."
The UPA's package gave full waiver to farmers with up to five acres of land holding, while it gave a relief up to Rs 20,000 to farmers with more land.
Government records also show that the highest number of beneficiaries in the state (1.52 million out of 3.76 million) are from the western Maharashtra region, famous for its grapes and sugar cultivation. The total amount written off in this region was Rs 3,980 crore -- almost 50 per cent of the total amount spent for the state.
The Vidarbha region the cotton belt comprising seven districts which witnessed 4,422 farmers' suicides between January 2001 and June 2008 -- stood second in the list, with around 1.25 million farmers getting the relief. But the loan amount waived was only Rs 1,850 crore, (about 25 per cent of the total package of Rs 7,760 crore for the state).
But these statistics suits Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. The NCP boss enjoys a strong support in western Maharashtra and his campaign is centred around the "UPA's benefits for farmers". "During the UPA tenure, the agricultural productivity has increased. We have waived farmers' loan of more than Rs 70,000 crore. We have increased the MSP of cotton to Rs 2,700. If you want the Central schemes to reach at the grassroots level, vote for us," Pawar chants in his rallies.
After the Centre, the Ashok Chavan government of the state had doled out its own loan waiver package. That too, didn't give complete relief to the farmers.
Vijay Jhawandhia of Ramnagar, one among the prominent farmers who spoke to the PM during his Waifad visit, points out: "Bank gives lower credit for cotton maximum of Rs 5,000 per acre as the yield is low while it can give up to Rs 30,000 for sugarcane. This also places Vidarbha farmers in disadvantage."
Vishwanath Jhare, another farmer, had made an investment of Rs 6,000 per acre for his 30 acres of land. "I got a relief of Rs 20,000," Jhare says offering a dry smile.
Farmers in Vidarbha admit they are benefitted by the UPA's 71,000-crore loan waiver scheme. But they also want it to be 'free for all'. Whoever comes to power on October 22 in Mumbai's Vidhan Bhavan, another loan waiver will be the first item in the long wish-list of Vidarbha for the next government.