Op-Ed: Naveen Govt Can Reject KISAN At its Own Peril

It’s a classic case of cutting the nose to spite the face. With its lukewarm response to the Centre’s missive asking for the list of small and marginal farmers in the state for their inclusion in the Prime Minister’s Kisan Samman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) Yojana, the Naveen Patnaik government has made it amply clear that it is in no hurry to oblige. If the farmers in the state are deprived of the benefits of the Central scheme in the process, so be it!

The reason cited for its inability to comply in time is downright laughable. “Sending a list of eligible farmers would take a lot of time and preparation,” Finance and Agriculture minister Sashi Bhushan Behera said on Saturday. If the state government doesn’t have such a list, one wonders what was the basis on which the first tranche of Rs. 5, 000 was credited to the bank accounts of over 12 lakh farmers under its own KALIA scheme? Drawing up a list of those who have less than two hectares (five acres) of land from among these 12 lakh plus farmers should not take more than a couple of days in this age of the internet.

The other ground cited by Behera – lack of prior consultation with the state government – does not wash either. The Modi government did not consult even its own cabinet, let alone state governments, while springing the surprise of demonetization on an unsuspecting nation in 2016. And yet, the Odisha government was among the first to support the move. There have been numerous other instances during the last four and a half years when the lack of consultation has not come in the way of the Naveen Patnaik government and the ruling BJD supporting a Central move. So, what’s new? One doesn’t have to be a political scientist to understand that the refusal to cooperate has to do with the impending elections and fears that the Modi government could derive some electoral mileage out of it.

“KALIA scheme is far better than PM-KISAN,” asserts BJD spokesperson Sasmit Patra. No one in his senses would dispute that because the former would benefit everyone in the farm sector, including sharecroppers and agricultural labourers, while only the landed farmers would be beneficiaries of KISAN. If the state government is so confident about its scheme, it should have welcomed the Central scheme and let the people judge for themselves which one is better. In the process, the farmers would get an additional assistance of Rs 6, 000 per year.

It is the same mentality that prompted the Naveen government to opt out of the Ayushman Bharat scheme and launch its own Biu Swashthya Kalyan Yojana a few months ago. The objection in that case was that the Central scheme had left out nine lakh eligible families. As in the KISAN case, the state government had argued that its scheme was better than the Centre’s scheme since the latter was an insurance-linked scheme. Fine, but why deny the people of Odisha the additional benefit of Rs. 5 lakh, even if only through insurance?

It does not augur well for the federal polity when electoral considerations outweigh the interests of the people of the state. Such one-up-manship may be good for political grandstanding ahead of a crucial election, but can also be suicidal if the Opposition (read BJP) can convince the electorate about the real motive behind it.

That is why, for all the discordant notes that the Naveen Patnaik is currently making, this columnist is of the view that it would not go the Ayushman Bharat way and would ultimately accept the KISAN scheme. After all, what is at stake is the vote of the farmers who can make or mar the electoral fortunes of a political party with their sheer numbers. There is little doubt that both KISAN and KALIA have been launched with an eye on the numerically huge farming community. The fear of a backlash from the community would prevent the Naveen Patnaik government from going to the extreme of opting out of the scheme altogether as it did in the case of Ayusman Bharat.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)