Mandsaur violence: Farmers’ protests spread as Centre rushes five battalions to Madhya Pradesh
A farmers’ agitation demanding loan waivers and higher crop prices in Madhya Pradesh spread to large parts of the state on Wednesday with protesters torching vehicles, targeting police stations and attacking government officials.
The flare-up occurred a day after five farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur, where district collector Swatantra Kumar Singh was heckled and assaulted on Wednesday when he was trying to pacify farmers blocking a highway.
As the BJP-ruled state grappled to contain the situation, the Centre rushed five battalions of paramilitary forces to Madhya Pradesh. Six battalions were sent on Tuesday to assist police.
The farmers’ uprising in Madhya Pradesh, as well as neighbouring Maharashtra over similar demands, poses a big challenge for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who stormed to power three year ago with the promise of freeing farmers of a cycle of debts.
Farmers in Rajasthan, another BJP-ruled state, also announced a strike from next week over the same demands even as the party’s ally in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena, skipped a cabinet meeting called by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis over the farmers’ issue.
Information and broadcasting minister M Venkaiah Naidu, however, accused the Congress of instigating the violence in Mandsaur.
“Congress is trying to give it a political twist. I only want to tell them not to politicise the issue...because it will boomerang on you,” Naidu said in Delhi
The MP government also denied permission to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi to visit curfew-bound Mandsaur on Wednesday. The party said Gandhi is likely to reach the district on Thursday accompanied by general secretary Kamal Nath and Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav.
Rattled by the widespread protests, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government said it was working on a crop-loan settlement scheme to waive interests of a section of around 6 lakh farmers, 30% of the state’s farming community.
“We are working on a formula. This is not a loan-waiver scheme but interest is likely to be waived. We would come out with details later,” minister Archana Chitnis said after attending a meeting chaired by chief minister Chouhan.
The Centre also rushed 1,100 anti-riot police personnel to Mandsaur to help restore peace in the district. Around 600 personnel of the Rapid Action Force, a specialised anti-riot force, had already reached the area to assist the local administration, a home ministry official said.
Officials said in Bhopal the violence spread to several districts during a statewide shutdown called by several farmers’ bodies and backed by the Congress.
Protesters torched several buses and other vehicles on the Bhopal-Indore highway, halting traffic for hours in Dewas. Eye-witnesses said passengers, crying for help, ran to agriculture fields for safety.
Protesters pelted stones at police stations in the district and set a police outpost on fire. They also burnt down several vehicles including seven buses and a state-owned medical van.
In Neemuch, police fired tear gas shells to quell protesting farmers who tried to set the local police station on fire while in Dhar, farmers pelted stones on police.
In Ujjain district, clashes were reported between protesters and police. Sources said three police personnel were injured in the clashes. In Khargone district, police caned agitating farmers, who damaged nearly a dozen vehicles and ransacked properties.
In Bhopal’s Misrod area, farmers tried to burn the effigy of the chief minister but were stopped by police.
A toll tax plaza at Mandsaur’s Pipliayamandi was ransacked. Several vehicles, a warehouse and a factory were also set on fire.
A policeman was also assaulted in Mandsaur while a bank building, a petrol pump and several shops were set on fire. A vehicle of a former MLA was also set on fire.
“It is the police who killed our children who had gone in support of our demands,” said a farmer in Pipliyamandi, demanding action against the policemen.
The farmers killed on Tuesday were cremated at their respective villages in Mandsaur on Wednesday.
The four-lane Neemuch-Mhow highway, that connects the entire Malwa region, was deserted between Mandsaur and Neemuch, a 50 km stretch.
All roads to the district were sealed and internet services in Mandsaur and surrounding districts remained suspended.
The farmers said the government should immediately hand over the compensation of Rs 1 crore each to the kin of the dead, announced by the chief minister. They also demanded that the slain farmers be declared as martyrs.
“We want the money now. We will not believe in the assurances of the government till we have the cheque in our hand,” said a protester.
Madhya Pradesh is cited as one of the biggest agriculture success stories in India in recent times but successive droughts have played havoc for farmers dependent on rains for their crops.
From last February to mid-February this year, at least 1,982 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in MP, data from the National Crime Records Bureau show. Most of the deaths are attributed to the farmers’ inability to pay of debts taken from private money-lenders in high rates of interest.
(With agency inputs)