Indian farmers get $9b loan relief ahead of polls | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 21, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, December 21, 2018

Indian farmers get $9b loan relief ahead of polls

The move signals Congress's intent to latch on disquiet in rural areas

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

"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."

Modi swept to power in 2014 largely on promises of improving lives of poor, ending corruption, boosting the economy and more jobs.

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.

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.

Political parties often promise farm loan waivers or other agricultural sops to win support in rural India.

Roughly 55 percent of the population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, making the community the largest voting bloc.

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