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Madhya Pradesh farmers’ protest: Police firing puts BJP on the back foot, Congress gains

Five farmers were killed in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur when police fired on protesters demanding better prices in the drought-ravaged region.

india Updated: Jun 07, 2017 20:24 IST
Hindustan Times, Bhopal
Madhya Pradesh,Mandsaur,Farmers' strike
Farmers set ablaze a police emergency vehicle in Hatpipalya, Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday.(PTI Photo)

The killing of five farmers in police firing in Madhya Pradesh is bad news for chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, 14 years after the Bhararitya Janata Party (BJP) swept to power. The state goes to polls next year and analysts and political commentators feel the current turmoil might turn the farming community against the ruling party.

The BJP is keeping up a brave face for the moment, saying the crisis will pass. “This was completely Congress sponsored violence. In such a situation the Congress will not gain anything politically. The state government has fulfilled almost every demand of the farmers in the past over 10 years,” insisted former MP and veteran BJP leader Kailash Sarang.

But many others disagree. “Congress has really benefited in the short term, but it remains to be seen if it would be able to cash in on the situation in the long run,” said political commentator Girijashankar.

In a state where farmers account for a sizable chunk of the 50 million electorate, the political ramifications of the farmer deaths could be huge. A nervous state government initially attempted to deny the complicity of the police after news broke that farmers agitating for better crop prices had been fired on in Mandsaur on Tuesday. Through the day, chief minister Chouhan and home minister Bhupendra Singh went on record to say, “Police didn’t fire at the farmers.”

By evening however, the tone and tenor of party leaders had turned defensive. The home minister admitted that the police personnel fired in at the crowd in “self-defence”. The government also increased the compensation to the families of the deceased farmers from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 1 crore, the largest ex-gratia payment in Madhya Pradesh so far.

Farmers torch trucks at Mhow-Neemuch Highway in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh on Wednesday. ( PTI Photo )

Many, including those even in the administration, are blaming the chief minister. First, he had reportedly refused to acknowledge the agitation when it began on June 1, and then dubbed the protesters as “anti-social elements” after the demonstrations turned violent.

Rather than engaging with the farmers, the chief minister is also accused of seeking to divide them by ignoring their leaders such as Shivkumar Sharma and Anil Yadav. Instead, he struck a bargain with the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), a farmer body associated with the Rashritya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The BKS immediately announced its withdrawal from the agitation on Sunday evening, further angering the farmers across western Madhya Pradesh.

To make matters worse, state BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chauhan said the farmers affiliated with the BKS would felicitate the CM for defusing the agitation by marginally raising the procurement prices for onions and lentils. The statement alienated the farmers more, even forcing the BKS to distance itself from the planned felicitation.

A state of farmers

The tragic events in Mandsaur have given fresh ammunition for another round of political slug fest.

Congress, the principal opposition party in the state, is trying to seize the opportunity and punch holes in the state government’s claim of successfully turning around the agrarian economy.

Accusing the government of betraying the farmers, Congress spokesman Bhupendra Gupta said “chief minister Chouhan spoke of farmers’ welfare all these years but did precious little”. Gupta has also been quick to add that the “Congress was a real well-wisher of the farmers”.

The party is hoping that following the Mandsaur violence, the perception would grow that economic benefits have bypassed the farmers.

State BJP spokesman Rajneesh Agarwal, however, defended the state government and maintained that Congress plans would come to a naught, pointing to the Central-government’s Krishi Karman award that Madhya Pradesh won five times in a row and the state’s annual agricultural growth of about 20%. These figures, he said, spoke of the prosperity of farmers in Madhya Pradesh.

First Published: Jun 07, 2017 20:23 IST