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Mandsaur protests – what led to the current mess in Madhya Pradesh

The week-long protests in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur on famers’ rights issue is refusing to simmer down. The Centre has rushed contingents of Rapid Action Force (RAF) to the violence-hit Mandsaur to help restore peace. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has asked Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to take “strict action” against those spreading unrest.

Pipliamandi of Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh – the ground zero of protests – has turned into a virtual war zone. According to eyewitnesses, the rioters attacked police officials, pelted stones, beat up district collector, torched vehicles and warehouses and looted shops and toll booths.

Five people were killed as police resorted to firing during the protests on Tuesday (6 June). Dozens of police personnel also have been injured in the violence. The state government has imposed curfew in sensitive areas of violence hit Mandsaur. Internet services have been suspended in Mandsaur, Ratlam, Neemuch and Ujjain districts.

What are the issues/ demands?

The farmers in Madhya Pradesh have largely two demands. First, they want better crop prices to cover their input costs. Second, they demand compensation package and debt relief in the lines of Uttar Pradesh. In addition, the cattle farmers demand that they should be given a price of Rs 50 on per litre of milk bought from them stating that they spend Rs 37 on production costs.

How does Madhya Pradesh fare in agriculture?

Madhya Pradesh is an agrarian state with agriculture being the mainstay of state’s economy. As much as 49 per cent of the state’s land area is cultivable. According to available data from state government sources, for the last four years, Madhya Pradesh has been witnessing a whopping 20% agricultural growth per year, which is said to be the highest in the world.

How did the current flare up happen?

Police said those indulged in violence and riots are not farmers. “It is unfair to call it even a famers’ movement. They are hooligans with a clear intent to destabilise the law and order situation in the state,” said a senior police official.

Many of the protesters are alleged to be Congress workers. A number of Congress leaders are reportedly fueling the protests.

DP Dhakad, a local Congress leader from Ratlam and a self-styled farmer, is said to a key player in instigating the violent stir. Dhakad is missing since the firing incident took place.

Today Rahul Gandhi is visiting Mandsaur, which has made BJP claim that this whole controversy was ignited by Congress to re-launch Rahul Gandhi.

Response of Shivraj Singh government

While the political response has been to attack Congress, the BJP government of Madhya Pradesh has transferred the Collector, District Magistrate and Superintendent of Police of Mandsaur district. Senior police officials have been deployed to oversee the law and order situation in all sub-divisions of Mandsaur district. Ratlam range DIG Avinash Sharma is camping in Pipliamandi to take stock of the situation.

In a bid to cool the tempers of the protesters, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced certain measures, including a loan settlement scheme for the cultivators who had defaulted on repayment of farm loan borrowed by them earlier. The scheme will cover around six lakh farmers with accumulated dues of Rs 6,000 crore.

Farmers’ issues – Always politically hot

In electoral politics and economic policy, farmers’ issues assume a great significance. Year in and year out, various political parties have used farmers’ issues to drum up their support base. In the recent times, AAP has used farmers’ issue in Punjab, Congress tried Kisan Sabha in Uttar Pradesh and the BJP literally beat everyone by executing its loan waver promise in Uttar Pradesh. Given that Madhya Pradesh is moving towards an election year, this farmers’ issue and politics embedded in it will take some time to get resolved.

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Saswat Panigrahi
Political writer, policy observer.

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