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Mandsaur killings the result of MP govt pitting RSS farmers vs the rest?

Anup Dutta, Aditya Menon | Updated on: 7 June 2017, 6:28 IST
(Arya Sharma)

Five protesting farmers were allegedly killed in police firing in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur district on Tuesday. While the MP government initially denied that the deaths were due to firing by the state police or CRPF, it later admitted that the police "may have fired in self defence". The farmers have been squarely blaming the government for the deaths.

Contrary to the state government's initial denials, Mandsaur collector SK Singh admitted that the five farmers were indeed killed by police firing.

“The police was forced to fire on the protestors. Five persons have died in today’s incident. The situation is under control,” SK Singh said.

“Those who died in today’s firing were identified as Kanhaiyalal Patidar, Bablu Patidar, Chain Singh Patidar, Abhishek Patidar and Satynarayan.  Abhishek and Satyanarayan died en route to a hospital in Indore,” said a senior official.

The incident took place on Tuesday  morning, when protestors spilled farm products in Pipliya Mandi Parshavnath Chowpatty area in Mandsaur.

According to a senior official, the police had to open firing when a mob gheraoed the Pipliya Police Station. The police also fired tear gas shells and resorted to baton charge to disperse the protestors.

Fearing that it would have to pay the political price for allegedly killing protesting farmers, the state government has desperately gone into damage control mode. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced a judicial inquiry into the incident. But when that failed to douse the farmers' ire, Chouhan shifted the blame towards the Congress and accused the Opposition party of fuelling the protests.

Chouhan's nervousness is understandable. It seems that a section of farmers in states like MP and Maharashtra have decisively turned against the Bharatiya Janata Party due to the party's handling of the recent protests in the two states.

RSS outfits versus the rest

In both the states, the BJP governments used similar tactics to deal with the protesting farmers – divide and rule, by striking a deal with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh affiliated outfits at the expense of others.

In Maharashtra, the Devendra Fadnavis government struck a deal with BJP-affiliated farmer leader Jayajirao Suryawanshi but it backfired as majority of the farmers continued with the protest and Suryawanshi had to face a backlash.

What happened in MP is similar.

After discussions with CM Chouhan on Sunday, Shivkant Dixit of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh announced in Ujjain that the agitation had been postponed as the government had agreed to all their conditions. Promptly, Chouhan announced that farmers will now get 50% payment through RTGS and cash payment of 50% for the products they sell at the Krishi Upaj Mandi. He further said that the government will purchase the moong summer crop on support price and onions from farmers at Rs 8 per kg. This purchase will begin in 3-4 days and will continue till the end of June.

But the Bharatiya Kisan Union, the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh and the Aam Kisan Union accused the BKS of betraying the farmers and decided to continue their agitation.

““They followed the same method in Maharashtra and MP. The state governments made deals with Sangh farmer outfits and set the police loose on the others. It's their way of telling farmers, 'if you back Sangh affiliated outfits, you will get concessions. But if you back others, you will get bullets',” a BKU activist told Catch.

Farmers' activists believe this policy serves two purposes. First, it strengthens the Sangh outfits' position as the main bargainers with the government. Second, it delegitimises the farmers who are continuing the protests, thereby justifying the use of violence against them.

"We will continue our agitation till June 10. The BKS has no moral right to call off the agitation," Shiv Kumar Sharma , national president of Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh said in Indore.

Political fallout

The Congress party has gone on the offensive against the BJP on this issue. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP government of being “at war with farmers.

He further said that, “In BJP's new India, our annadata (food providers) get bullets just for asking for their rights”.

Congress leader Jitu Patwari, the AICC secretary in-charge for Gujarat and MLA from Rau (Indore) made a startling revelation by tweeting a video showing MP police personnel vandalising vehicles. Farmers allege the police's vandalism was aimed at maligning the protesting farmers.

In his response, Chouhan said, “The administration held talks with the farmers but anti-social elements entered and created violence”.

What may make matters worse for the BJP is that the killing of farmers in Mandsaur may have an impact in neighbouring Gujarat, which goes to the polls later this year.

All the farmers killed happened to be from the Patidar community, which has been up in arms against the BJP in Gujarat on the reservation issue.

Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) Hardik Patel posted a series of tweets slamming the BJP.
One of his tweets was similar to that of Rahul Gandhi. “In BJP's new India, you get bullets for demanding your rights, whether you are a farmer or youth”.

Attacking PM Narendra Modi and his development model, Patel tweeted “We don't want smart cities, we want smart farmers. Stop firing bullets at us. If our plough rises, your government will fall”.

He further told Modi, “You've been elected PM to fight terrorism, not fire at farmers”.

Meanwhile the Patidar samaj in Mandsaur has said that the last rites of those who have been killed will not be performed if the CM doesn't come there. Patel posted the Samaj's announcement as well.

The protests have intensified across western Madhya Pradesh and besides Mandsaur there has been violence in the districts of Indore, Dhar and Ujjain.

In other districts like Jhabua, Neemuch, Dewas and Shajapur there were incidents in which protestors stopped vehicles carrying fruit and other farm items and emptied milk containers on the road. The protests have affected the supply of milk and vegetables across Western MP and caused an increase in prices.

First published: 6 June 2017, 23:48 IST
Anup Dutta

Anup Dutta is a journalist based out of Bhopal.