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Guns and slogans: How the Mandsaur stir escalated into a full-fledged battle

Farmers have been agitating for the establishment of a minimum support price for vegetables and milk, besides loan waivers, since July 1. The outrage only grew in intensity after the police firing on Tuesday.

bhopal Updated: Jun 07, 2017 21:39 IST
Punya Priya Mitra
Punya Priya Mitra
Hindustan Times, Mandsaur
Mandsaur,Police firing,Farmers agitation
Police cane commuters on the Mhow- Neemuch highway in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, on Wednesday. (Mujeeb Faruqui/HT Photo)

At first sight, Mandsaur seems like a region scorched by warring armies.

Thousands of trucks used to ply through the four-lane Neemuch-Mhow highway until early last week, transporting provisions across the Malwa region. Today, a significant portion of the route – the 50-km stretch between Mandsaur and Neemuch – lies deserted.

All the roads to Mandsaur have been sealed, and there is a clampdown on Internet services in all the districts of the region. No state or national-level politicians are being allowed inside.

The attacks occur without warning. Farmers emerge like ghosts from villages on both sides of the highway, indulge in arson and looting, then melt back into nothingness. Police have been asked to exercise restraint even in the face of stone-pelting.

The city seems calm, with police personnel dotting every corner. Its shops are closed, and streets remain deserted.

Trucks torched by agitators on the Mhow-Neemuch highway in Mandsaur on Wednesday. (PTI photo)

Venture outside, however, and you enter a different world. Farmers huddle on the roadside, swearing loudly cursing at every figure of authority they can think of. The rural-urban divide in this region is stark.

“It was the police who fired unnecessarily at the farmers. We are demanding the suspension of inspector Anil Thakur, who ordered the firing,” says Ramnaresh Patidar, a resident of Pipliyamandi, referring to the killing of five farmers on Tuesday.

Another farmer rues how none of the local politicians bothered to speak to them in the initial days of the agitation. “And now, after the shooting, they dare not come here,” he says.

Farmers have been agitating for the establishment of a minimum support price for vegetables and milk, besides loan waivers, since July 1. To break the strike, the government struck a deal with the RSS-backed Bharatiya Kisan Sangh. However, this only succeeded in further fuelling the fire.

Things seemed to be calming down on Wednesday, but a chakka jam observed by the farmers on the highway revived frayed tempers. Accompanying the agitators on this particular event was the body of 18-year-old Abhishek Patidar, who was killed in police firing the previous day.

Relatives of the youngster, a science student at a local government school, said he was not even an active participant in the ongoing agitation. “Abhishek was not into politics. He had just gone to the police station – where he was shot – as a casual observer,” says Madhusudan, his elder brother.

Far from quelling the unrest, the police firing only made things worse. “We never expected things to go so far,” says Manvendra Patidar of Pipliyamandi.

When district collector Swatantra Kumar Singh came to meet Abhishek’s family during the chakka jam, he was manhandled by agitators. Even as images of the incident went viral, more incidents of arson and violence were reported.

Congress activists burn an effigy of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Bhopal after the police firing in Mandsaur. (PTI photo)

The toll tax plaza at Pipliyamandi was ransacked, and all its cabins smashed. Rampaging farmers set several trucks and vehicles – besides a warehouse and factory – on fire.

Miscreants beat up a policeman in Suwasara, and lit up a UCO bank branch, a petrol pump and a number of shops. A vehicle of former MLA Radheyshyam Patidar was also set ablaze.

The agitation has now spread to the neighbouring districts of Neemuch, Dhar, Ratlam, Ujjain and Indore. Though the violence was not as widespread there, the government decided to suspend Internet services to prevent any untoward escalation in tension.

Until now, police have been on the defensive. However, sources say that they are likely to make tougher attempts at stemming the agitation in the coming days.

First Published: Jun 07, 2017 21:38 IST