Mandsaur farmers’ agitation: Death toll climbs to 6 as unrest spreads
Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will begin an indefinite fast from Saturday for peace and possible talks with farmers as a violent agitation demanding loan waivers and better prices for their produce raged across the state.
Two debt-ridden men allegedly committed suicide at different places of the state in the past 24 hours, underlining growing woes of farmers in the country’s heartland where a bumper harvest has sent prices crashing.
Farmers in Maharashtra, another BJP-ruled state, are also agitating over similar demands, mounting pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has promised to double their income by 2022.
Chouhan’s announcement at a hurriedly-called press conference came three days after five farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur district where protesters burnt vehicles and government buildings and pelted stones on police.
One man who was allegedly injured in police caning earlier, died in Indore on Friday, taking the toll to 6 since the agitation began.
The agitation has spread to several other districts and violence reported from across the state, putting the BJP government under pressure.
“There (at the fasting venue) I will hold talks with the farmers on their issues and genuine demands. I will run the government from there and monitor the situation in the state,” he said, adding he was not “heartless”. He will hold the fast at the Dussehra Ground in Bhopal.
The opposition led by the Congress has accused him of failing to address the farmers’ woes and turning the police on protesters.
Union home minister Rajnath Singh took on the Congress during a public rally in Rajasthan, asking voters to kick the BJP out of power if the government fails to double farmers’ income within five years.
Singh also accused some political parties of provoking the protesters but Chouhan only referred to “some elements” who were trying to create instability in the state.
“There will be no compromise on the security aspect. Such elements who are trying to create disturbances and chaos will be dealt sternly,” Chauhan added.
A video clip purportedly showing Congress legislator Shakuntla Khatik asking people to burn a police station in Shivpuri district surfaced on Friday, giving the BJP ammunition to attack the Congress. HT could not verify the authenticity of the clip.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi was detained by police on Wednesday when he tried to reach Mandsaur.
Officials said the two suicides were reported from Raisen and Sagar district in Bundelkhand, one of the state’s drought-prone regions. Both were said to be heavily indebted to private banks and local money-lenders who allegedly high interest rates.
The protests spread as farmers pelted stones on police when they were stopped from entering Bhopal. They also set a truck on fire and blocked the Indore-Bhopal highway, police said.
In Damoh, farmers surrounded the collector’s office demanding higher compensation for their farm produce and in support of those killed and injured in Mandsaur. Sporadic incidents of clash between police and farmers were also reported from other districts.
Officials said it was not yet clear if the man who died in Indore was injured on June 6 when police caned protesters in Mandsaur district.
The exact causes of his death will be known after the post-mortem, they said.
Durga Dhakkad told local TV channels that his son Ghanshyam, 25, was among protesting farmers and struck on the head in police lathi-charge.