Indian farmers get $9bn loan relief ahead of elections

<p class="">Three newly elected Indian state governments have waived up to $8.6 billion in farm loans in a bid by Rahul Gandhi’s main opposition Congress party to boost support ahead of 2019 elections.</p>

<p class="">The sorry plight of farmers in India, where thousands commit suicide every year, is set to be a major issue in the polls when Prime Minister Narendra Modi will run for a second term.</p>

<p class="">Last week Congress wrested power from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in three state elections, partly by promising the help voters working in agriculture.</p>

<p class="">Late Wednesday the new government of one of these states, Rajasthan, announced a write-off on loans of small farmers up to 200,000 rupees ($2,850), at an estimated cost of $2.5 billion.</p>

<p class="">The two other states, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, where Congress ended 15 years of BJP rule, announced similar plans this week to forgo loans worth nearly 440 billion rupees.</p>

<p class="">The move signals Congress’s intent to latch on the growing disquiet in rural areas, where 68 percent of India’s 1.25 billion people live, against Modi, 68.</p>

<p class="">"It’s done!," Gandhi, 48, whose standing was boosted by the state election successes, said on Twitter. "We asked for 10 days. We did it in 2."</p>

<p class="">Modi swept to power in 2014 largely on promises of improving lives of poor, ending corruption, boosting the economy and more jobs.</p>

<p class="">But tens of thousands of farmers have rallied in recent months — including 80,000 in New Delhi this month — over his government’s failure to mitigate their problems.</p>

<p class="">Modi had pledged to double farm income by 2022 but most say nothing has changed. His opponents accuse him of being pro-rich and ignoring the plight of millions of poor farmers.</p>

<p class="">Political parties often promise farm loan waivers or other agricultural sops to win support in rural India.</p>

<p class="">Roughly 55 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, making the community the largest voting bloc.</p>

<p class="">The agriculture sector accounts for around 15 percent of India’s economic output.</p>

<p class="">But nearly 300,000 farmers have killed themselves in the last two decades, as drought — or flooding — poor yields and low prices push them into a cycle of debt and despair.</p>

<p class="">Two BJP state governments in 2017 announced similar packages for farmers worth 770 billion rupees but Modi’s government ruled out a similar nationwide amnesty plan in July.</p>

<p class="">But recent media reports suggest that Modi’s government may reconsider and announce a multi-trillion dollar relief package in the run up to the elections, which are due by May.</p>

<p class="">The previous Congress-led alliance in 2008 promised a nationwide farm loan waiver of more than 700 billion rupees, helping it win a second term in office in 2009.</p>
Source: news

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