The farmers’ protest in Mandsaur and neighbouring areas of Madhya Pradesh has come as a lifeline to the Congress, which has been out of power in the state for the last 14 years. It has also put the ruling BJP on the back foot as farmers are seen as the core voters of Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.

In fact, the 20% agricultural growth rate in the state in the last three years, as has been claimed by Chouhan, and the five consecutive national Krishi Karma awards, which is given to states for raising the country’s food grain production, were seen as testimonials to Chouhan’s pro-farmer policy.

As per the presentation made by the state government last year, for which it got the award, the interest rate in agricultural loans was 5% in 2009-10, which was reduced to 0% in 2012-13. Crop loan given by cooperative banks had increased from Rs 5,845 crore in 2010-11, to Rs 13,809.24 crore in 2015-16. Agricultural loan, which was Rs 9,269 crore in 2010-11, stands at Rs 45,003 crore (commercial banks). The canal assured irrigated area of 9.75 lakh ha in 2008-09 has increased to 36.02 lakh ha in 2015-16. Wheat production, which was 72 lakh tonne in 2010-11, went up to 184 lakh tonne in 2015-16. Despite these impressive figures, the Chouhan-led government, according to political observers, is battling its biggest fight ever since the VYAPAM scam.

Prabhat Jha, Rajya Sabha member and BJP national vice president, who was also BJP president of Madhya Pradesh, while speaking to The Sunday Guardian, said that there was no doubt that the farmers were distressed in the state.

“Farmers are distressed and when farmers are distressed, such things happen. The state government was, and is doing, whatever it can to reduce their hardship. However, burning buses, beating up policemen, digging up highways, is not the way to protest,” he said.

According to Jha, it is true that the Congress instigated the farmers to become violent during the protest. “The Congress is virtually dead in MP and has sensed that to exploit farmers’ anger is the best way to revive itself. There is no doubt that Congress leaders instigated the violence in Mandaur and the neighbouring areas. Why did Rahul Gandhi come to MP? Were local Congress leaders not enough? Why is the Congress crying over not being allowed entry into Mandsaur? How could the local administration allow them into Mandsaur? They did not allow even our own state president,” he stated.

Several videos have been doing the rounds of social media and also of television studios, showing local Congress leaders instigating the violence in MP. However, Bhopal based senior Congress spokesperson Pankaj Chaturvedi denied all such charges. “Our leaders did not instigate anyone to resort to violence. I am challenging the state government, which has all the power and ability to establish that we were instigating violence. On the one hand they say that the Congress is dead and on the other hand they are accusing us of instigating such mass-scale violence. Rahul Gandhi is the biggest leader of the main national Opposition party and if he along with senior leaders wanted to meet the family members of the deceased farmers, what was the problem? The Chouhan government has strangulated all forms of democratic dissent in the state,” Chaturvedi told The Sunday Guardian.

ADMINISTRATIVE FAILURE

Both BJP and Congress leaders agree that there were both administrative and intelligence failure, as was obvious from the fact that senior government officials did not have any clue that the farmers were so angry.

After the police firing in Mandsaur, in which five farmers were killed, the state government transferred the district collector, Swatantra Kumar and the district SP, O.P. Tripathy, in an attempt to do some damage control. According to officials, while Tripathy is known to be “laidback”, Swatantra Kumar was made the scapegoat to placate the protestors.

“We have spoken to doctors, lawyers and other professionals who are a part of the community and they have told us that Hardik Patel was very much active in this region for the last seven-eight months and it was he, along with a local Congress leader D.P. Dhakkad who instigated the youths.”

“For three days, the state Home Minister did not know who had fired at the protestors. After three days of their death, he accepted that the farmers died from police firing. Their senior leaders, Kailash Vijayvargiya and Babu Lal Gaur, have questioned the way the Home Minister handled or mishandled the entire matter. It was a massive intelligence and administrative failure, and to save themselves the ignominy, they are trying to blame us. The video of one of our MLAs, which they claim is proof that he was instigating the mob, is from an occasion when Congress workers had gone to submit a memorandum to the SDM and it was not shot on the day of the violence,” Chaturvedi claimed.

LOAN WAIVER

State BJP spokesperson, Dr Hitesh Bajpai stated that the waiver of agricultural loan, which is one of the major demands of the farmers, was an omnipresent problem. “The price of onion and pulses and loan waiver is an issue, we are not denying that. However, last Monday, we had made all arrangements to buy the commodities and distribute that through the public distribution system. I too gave the required instructions to my department. At the time we were assured that the issue had been resolved. Farmer unions too told the Chief Minister that they were satisfied. However, the Congress smelt an opportunity and decided to convert the issue into a massive anti-BJP protest,” Bajpai, who is a doctor and the chairman of State Civil Supplies Corporation in MP, told The Sunday Guardian.

Official sources said that no order was given by either the CM House or by any other senior administrator to open fire at the protesters.

“The protesters had erected a roadblock on the state highway. A mob of 250 people torched 25 vehicles including passenger buses. Another mob went to the nearby Pipliyamandi police station, which is also a storehouse of weapons, and surrounded it. The station in-charge was given to understand by the rampaging mob that they wanted to burn down the police station and loot the weapons, as a result of which the police opened fire. There was no administrative or political sanction to open fire. Even the SP was not aware of this,” a senior official source said.

THE HARDIK CONNECTION

Official sources confirmed that the region which has emerged as the epicentre of the farmers’ protest is a Patidar dominated belt. It is believed that the Patidar community leader, Hardik Patel played an instrumental role in the whole protest. “We have spoken to doctors, lawyers and other professionals who are a part of the community and they have told us that Hardik Patel was very much active in this region for the last seven-eight months and it was he, along with a local Congress leader D.P. Dhakkad, who is the chairman of the zila panchayat, who instigated the youths. The police is looking into this.”

A similar incident had taken place nearly 20 years ago, when on 12 January 1998, 24 farmers were killed and 150 injured in a police firing in Multai tehsil, in MP’s Betul district. At the time, the farmers, who were hit by a third successive year of crop failure, were demanding Rs 5,000 as compensation as against the Rs 400 offered by the Digvijaya Singh-led Congress government.

 

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