Naidu’s ‘‘Fashion Statement’’

On the day after Yoga Day Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu found himself having to perform verbal gymnastics instead of just physical exercises.

During a speech in Mumbai he said, "lf there is a need for money, then go to a bank and take a loan. This has become a fashion these days—take a loan and then demand a loan waiver. Whose money is it? Does the money belong to the State Bank? Is it Arundhati madam's money? No, it is your money, it is our money. If we waive off the loan here, we will have to pay somewhere else. So writing off loans is not a final solution".

This is a fairly accurate verbatim transcript of what Naidu actually said. This is attested by video recordings of his speech available on numerous Internet sites.

It is clear that the Minister—who holds multiple portfolios including Poverty Alleviation, Urban Development, Housing and also Information & Broadcasting—was speaking about farmers seeking loan waivers. He was referring to Opposition political parties demanding that farm loans should be waived.

While calling it a "fashion" to take loans from banks and then ask for waiver, he was again speaking directly to farmers and about what he perceives to be fashion or trend or tendency to seek a write-off.

Nowhere does he indicate that his remark is aimed at political parties who clamour for waiver of farm loans. Nor does he specify that political parties are the ones who have made it a fashion to make such demands.

Needless to say, in these days of instant news, live television and social media, it took very little time for Naidu's "fashion statement" to go viral.

Also predictably, Opposition party leaders and spokespersons pounced with alacrity and glee upon his evident political faux pas.

Caught with his foot in his mouth, the Union Minister hastily issued a clarification later in the day. His clarification was on predictable lines as per the text-book formula in such situations. He denied he had said what he had said. He claimed that he had been misquoted. He explained what he had really intended to say.

Attempting to wriggle out from the charge that he had said that seeking agriculture loan waiver has become a "fashion'' Venkaiah Naidu claimed that that he was actually referring to the "fashion of political parties" competing with each other to ask for debt relief.

He told newsmen in Delhi: "When I was talking in Mumbai earlier today, I was referring to the approach of political parties which are competing with each other, asking for waiver of loans. I was saying that it has become the fashion of political parties to ask for loan waiver".

He went on to elaborate on the logic of what he wanted to say that waiver of farm loans alone is not the solution to farmers' distress. It can only be a temporary solution, that too in distress or extreme situations. Political parties should focus on "long-term solutions" such as improving infrastructure, rural roads, assured power supply, provisions of cold storage and godowns and providing affordable and timely cheap credit to farmers, besides providing market facilities for their produce.

But it was already too late. The damage had been done. The electronic media had focused on the "fashion statement" for most the day. Rival parties like the Aam Aadmi Party and the CPI(M) had enough time to castigate him for his insensitive comment about seeking loan waivers being the latest "fashion".

AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal said the comment exposed his "bias towards the rich". CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury asked if the government would now term farmer suicides "fashionable".

A Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader said, "Such statements by ministers on farm loan waiver show their attitude towards poor farmers. This remark is an insult to them".

Even the BJP's ally in Maharashtra and at the Centre, the Shiv Sena, criticised Venkaiah sharply: "BJP leaders are now showing their true colours after coming to power. In the recent past, we have seen how BJP state president made a remark against farmers and now it's Venkaiah Naidu. It's sad to see such statements coming from these senior BJP leaders" said Manisha Kayande of the Sena.

The Congress was equally scathing. Digvijaya Singh said that Naidu is not a farmers' leader. "BJP is anti-farmer. Venkaiah Naiduji is not farmer leader. He doesn't care about the farmers". Echoing similar sentiments, Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala said it was irresponsible for a senior Union Minister to make such a harsh statement at a time when the situation in Madhya Pradesh is so volatile and farmers in many States were suffering such trauma.


Vol. 50, No.2, Jul 16 - 22, 2017