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Monday Musings: Famers’ protests - a political hot potato always too hot to handle

PUNE It was the monsoon of 2011 when the then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had firmly taken over the state administration, nine months after he took charge of a post he was chosen for by surprise by the Congress high command in the light of the Adarsh case
PUBLISHED ON FEB 01, 2021 04:28 PM IST

PUNE It was the monsoon of 2011 when the then chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had firmly taken over the state administration, nine months after he took charge of a post he was chosen for by surprise by the Congress high command in the light of the Adarsh case.

Maharashtra had seen a change in the leadership as the Congress replaced Ashok Chavan with Prithviraj Chavan, a suave politician, who, till then, was serving in the Prime Minister’s office as junior minister.

Everything was going smoothly for the new CM and his cabinet when a small farmers’ agitation turned big – and in the process cost the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) politically in the 2014 elections.

A bunch of farmers from Maval in the western part of Pune district opposed a pipeline project that was to bring water from the Pavana river to neighbouring Pimpri-Chinchwad, whose civic body was controlled by NCP leader Ajit Pawar.

They were already unhappy because their land was taken over for various projects, including industries and the 95-kilometre long expressway, which connects Maharashtra’s two big cities – Pune and Mumbai.

Suddenly, the protests turned violent as farmers from Maval attempted to block the Pune-Mumbai expressway that is used by around one lakh vehicles each day on weekends.

To quell the protest and clear the expressway, the police department, led by the late RR Patil of the NCP, resorted to firing.

Three persons were killed and 10 injured in the police firing.

The top police officials like then Pune district superintendent of police Sandeep Karnik argued that force was used in self-defence.

His argument then was: “We had no option when protesters gheraoed some police officials and started throwing stones at them.”

To be fair to him, some senior police officials along with constables also sustained serious injuries while controlling the protestors.

Interesting was the response from Shiv Sena, which was then in opposition and an ally of the BJP.

The Sena chief called Congress-NCP government “killer of its own people”.

Its member of Parliament Shrirang Barne made the killing of farmers a poll issue and garnered good support from Maval.

It’s been 10 years and state politics has seen a major change. BJP, which then was in opposition, is now ruling the country amidst a fresh challenge of the ongoing farm agitation in Delhi.

Many have questioned the Delhi police response although a large number of people endorsed the way Republic Day agitation of farmers was handled.

There was a strong provocation from farmers, who crossed barricades; changed designated routes; did not follow instructions related to trollies with tractors; and eventually entered the Red Fort, where they were not supposed to.

The police, despite incitement, largely exercised restraint and avoided major violence, which could have spiralled quickly and many would have suffered.

The Congress, along with other parties like Shiv Sena and NCP, have blamed the BJP for failing to control farmers entering Red Fort, where they hoisted the Khalsa flag.

So on one hand, Congress and NCP are currently part of the state government with Shiv Sena, which then called the two parties “killer” in the case of the Maval firing, for police failure to show restraint.

The same outfits blame BJP today for its deliberate soft approach to the Delhi agitation.

The BJP on the other hand, which was then in opposition in the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) is now ruling the civic body and wanted to complete the project to meet thirst of people.

RR Patil, who served as home minister of Maharashtra, was perhaps right when he once said: “Police are a punching bag - whether they act or not. They only have brickbats to receive.”

Patil, who came from rural parts of western Maharashtra and made it big in the city, is no more today to offer his opinion on what happened in Delhi

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