By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, July 22, 2018: Farmers seem to have become pawns in the game of politics. With 2019 elections looming, political parties have chosen the farm loan waiver as a major issue in Odisha.

With the opposition Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announcing waiver of farm loans if voted to power, the Naveen Patnaik led Biju Jatnata Dal (BJD) is under pressure to announce farm loan waiver in a couple of days to keep its vote bank intact.

Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, and Punjab have already implemented farm loan waiver. As part of poll promise, Rajasthan, which is going to polls later this year, recently announced a waiver for small and marginal farmers.

The Odisha Government is also under pressure from Navnirman Krushak Sangathan (NKS) – a major non-political farmers’ body, which has been raising farmers’ issues for the last four years. The demand of the NKS is “Price, Pension and Prestige” to farmers.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik seems to have been caught between vote bank and burden on exchequer. If the BJD government decides to waive off the loan by Rs 50,000 for over 50 lakh farmers then it will have to bear an extra burden of Rs 26,000 crore and if around Rs 20,000 is waived off then the exchequer will have to bear a burden of Rs 10,000-15,000 crore.

Though farm waiver has now become necessary for political reasons, the challenge before the Patnaik led government is how to arrange the huge fund. Though he has said several times that the State Government is examining how to proceed with the matter, Patnaik last month sought a national policy on farm loan waiver.

In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on June 18, Patnaik said, “In order to relieve farmers of the agrarian distress, we should have a national policy on farm loan waiver. The State Government would be willing to support any initiative taken by the Central Government in this direction,” the letter said.

In the backdrop of a round of politics of competitive populism with all parties promising farm loan waivers in the run-up to the recently held assembly elections, Pantaik has raised a fundamental issue for a nationwide debate. However, with the state going to poll in less than a year, Patnaik has to take quick decision about farm loan waiver with farm distress in the state emerging as a key issue.

“The loan waiver issues should not end up with cost sharing by the Centre and the States and should be removed from political considerations, since agrarian distress in the country is on the rise,” a source close to Patnaik said.

Though once elected almost all the states have struggled to deliver on the promise; political parties have resorted to populism to grab power.

To be a politician hanging on to power or not to be but rather a statesman who has his own take on crucial issues of national importance like farmers welfare in the country, everyone eagerly waits for Patnaik’s stand sooner than later.

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