Shimla rape-murder: Kotkhai protests rival the 1990 apple agitation
It was in 1990 that the apple belt of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi rallied together to seek a better support price from the then Shanta Kumar-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state.india Updated: Jul 22, 2017 10:13 IST
The protests sparked off by the gangrape and murder of a Kotkhai schoolgirl followed by the custodial death of a Nepalese rape accused have turned out to be the biggest in the apple heartland since the 1990 violent agitation by the fruit growers against the low support price.
It was in 1990 that the apple belt of Shimla, Kullu and Mandi rallied together to seek a better support price from the then Shanta Kumar-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the state.
The orchardists were demanding that the support price be raised from Rs 2.25 per kg to Rs 5.
Interestingly, that time too the protest started from Theog and Kotkhai. “I still remember the protest, which was touted as the apple agitation, began from Kotkhai and Theogh before spreading across the entire apple belt,” says Sanjay Chauhan, general secretary of Himachal Pradesh Fruit And Vegetable Growers Confederation, a conglomerate of various farmers’ associations.
The farmers laid siege to the town of Shimla after the agitation turned violent following the death of three farmers in Kotgarh. The apple-growing region spans Shimla, Kinnaur and Kullu districts comprising 13 assembly segments. Apples are also grown in parts of Mandi and Sirmour district, but the above three districts form the traditional apple belt.
Seeing the situation getting out of hand, the then government had called in the army that marched through the streets. The agitation also widened the regional divide between the upper Himachal comprising the apple belt and the hilly areas, and the lower Himachal consisting of plains.
Unlike the past, this time the social media galvanised the protests. Kotkhai erupted after videos of the murdered girl went viral on the social media. The pictures of the alleged accused were also circulated widely.
The protest is bound to impact the political contours of the apple growing regions. Until the late 1970s, this belt used to produce mixed electoral results in the assembly elections. But since the late 80s, the Congress presence began to grow stronger.
In 1982, of the eight seats in Shimla, the Congress secured six, while the BJP won two. Kullu remained loyal to the saffron fold, where the party won all seats.
The Congress swept all seats — eight in Shimla, three in Kullu and one in Kinnaur — in the 1985 election. The party began to slip in the following elections but the massive agitation by apple growers in 1990 against the Shanta Kumar government again bolstered its fortunes.
The Congress had bagged most of the seats in the 2012 assembly elections too.