With Rahul Gandhi by his side and the national media in attendance, Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah couldn’t have asked for a better stage to announce relief measures for the state’s farmers, 507 of whom have killed themselves since April this year.
Addressing a 25,000 strong gathering at Haveri in central Karnataka, Siddaramaiah announced the waiver of interest on all farm loans - short, medium and long term. The state government will foot the interest due from farmers to banks and cooperative societies, he said. The initiative will cost the exchequer Rs 220 crore.
Education of children of those families where farmers have committed suicide will be provided by the government till Post Graduation. He also announced that the compensation to the families of farmers who have committed suicide will be increased to Rs 5 lakh from Rs 1 lakh. Widows of these farmers will be paid an additional Rs 1,500 as pension over and above the Rs 500 that they receive at present.
In open defiance of the Central Government directive that states should not fix their own Minimum Support Price (MSP) for farm produce, Siddaramaiah said that the state government will offer an enhanced amount as MSP for all crops. He said that the state government will continue to pressure the central government for additional funds.
The decisions, according to sources closed to the CM, were taken late on Friday evening at a meeting chaired by Rahul Gandhi.
Despite the emphatic tone of the announcements, farmers organisations do not seem very impressed. Activists of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha (the largest farmers union in the state), who have been holding demonstrations against the State government, criticised the interest waiver scheme and said that it will change little. “The scheme will apply only to those farmers who pay the principal amount. They don’t have enough to eat. How will they return the principal amount?” the KRRS said in a release.
Siddaramaiah’s coterie, however, believes that the CM has received a much needed facelift through the two day visit of the Congress Vice President and pointed to the lavish praise he showered on the State government.
For instance, speaking at Saturday’s rally, Rahul lavished praise on Siddaramaiah and said, “Our CM is not a suit-boot leader like Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He’s a rural man and he understands your pain.”
Siddaramaiah had his share of troubles until Rahul arrived with leaders such as Mallikharjun Kharge, S M Krishna, C K Jaffer Sharief and State Congress president openly criticising him. These leaders have, in fact, become leaders of what party dissidents have begun to call the ‘Save Congress Campaign’.
A member of this camp told HT that Rahul’s visit was not all roses for Siddaramaiah. They said that the crisis in the Karnataka Congress is far from over and pointed to the meetings that Rahul Gandhi held with leaders of the dissident faction, including a long closeted session with Krishna, the most vocal of Siddaramaiah’s critics. He also received dozens of requests from MLAs who want Siddaramaiah replaced, the source said.
Both sides, however, agreed that a tenuous status quo will be maintained for now.