As Maharashtra moved to control an ongoing protest by farmers with a loan waiver, a similar protest in Madhya Pradesh took a violent turn on Tuesday when at least five farmers were killed and eight others injured in two separate incidents of firing in Mandsaur.
Five farmers were killed and several others injured on Tuesday in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh as police opened fire on farmers who indulged in violence and pelted stones at the police. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ordered a judicial probe after holding a meeting with senior civil and police officers. Mandsaur city and Piplya Mandi area were put under curfew after violence.
Chouhan announced a compensation of Rs 1 crore and a job to the next of kin of each of those who were killed, Rs five lakh and free treatment to the injured. Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh Chairman Shivkumar Sharma identified the dead as Bablu Patidar, Sarender Patidar, Kanhaiya, Satyanarayan, and Akhilesh, who is said to be a college student.
Mandsaur collector SK Singh confirmed deaths and said that a magisterial inquiry has been ordered. As tension prevailed, mobile internet services were suspended in Mandsaur, Ratlam and Neemuch districts since morning to check spread of rumours.
Singh also told PTI that police categorically told him that they did not fire at the protesters. Curfew has been imposed in Pipalya Mandi police station area of Mandsaur district where the incident took place, while prohibitory orders restricting movement under section 144 of CrPC have been imposed in rest of the district, the collector said. According to eyewitnesses, protesting farmers torched vehicles and indulged in stone pelting in Parshvanath area under Pipaliya Mandi police station limits of the district.
After the police firing, protesters became more violent and set a number of vehicles afire. Even though authorities clamped a curfew in the area, mobs of protesters were on the roads indulging in arson.
Chouhan blamed the Congress for the violence by farmers while Congress state unit President Arun Yadav and Leader of Opposition Ajay Singh dubbed it as failure of the government.
In-camera autopsy of bodies was going on and the cause of death will be disclosed later, the collector said, adding that families of the deceased will get financial aid.
The Congress said it has formed a panel of MLAs to probe the Mandsaur violence. Earlier, Home Minister Bhupendra Singh told reporters that not the police but anti-social elements who mingled with the crowds opened fire at the farmers, who are demanding loan waiver and fair prices for their produce.
However, eyewitnesses said a clash between the police and farmers was followed by stone-pelting from both sides and firing by the police. "Police had to open fire around 2 pm to control agitated farmers, killing two farmers and injuring several others," Ujjain Divisional Commissioner BM Ojha earlier told IANS.
Protesters also surrounded Piplya Mandi police station after which heavy police reinforcements were sent to control the situation. On Monday night, farmers held a protest on the Mandsaur railway crossing.
"I request the farmers to be patient. Do not fall in the trap of anyone. The government stands with farmers. We will solve all problems through discussion," Chouhan tweeted while blaming Congress for the violence.
"On Monday night, farmers stationed near the Dalauda police station came out on the roads to protest and vandalised a railway crossing. They also tried to damage the rail track. However, train services on the route were not affected," Mandsaur Police Superintendent OP Tripathi told IANS.
Strike enters Day 6
Farmers are observing strike from 1 June to 10 June to press their demands with the government.
On Monday, the chief minister had assured farmers that onions would be purchased by the government at Rs 8 per kg and 'moong' pulse at agreed price, and that a Rs 1,000 crore stabilisation fund would be set up. Though the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh has called off its strike, other farmer organisations have continued the agitation.
The state has been facing shortage of milk and vegetables, leading to a price hike. Farmers poured milk on the Agra-Malwa road last week and stopped trucks from carrying vegetables to markets. Several parts of the state faced a similar situation.
In Ratlam, the district collector Ashok Bhargava imposed prohibitory orders under section 144 of CrPC following the violence in neighbouring Mandsaur district.
Ratlam superintendent of police Amit Singh announced a reward of Rs 10,000 each for information about absconding farmer leaders DP Dhakad, Rajesh Bharava, Bhagwati Patidar (said to be Congress members) and others who were allegedly involved in violence in the district on Sunday in which two police personnel had been injured.
Congress and farmers' association calls for bandh on Wednesday
Meanwhile, the state Congress and the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh have given a call for bandh on Wednesday across the state to protest the farmers' death in Mandsaur.
"We have called for a massive MP bandh tomorrow (Wednesday)," state Congress chief Arun Yadav told PTI.
The Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Ajay Singh, demanded resignation of Chouhan, saying the incident of firing in Mandsaur is shameful for a chief minister who claims to be a farmer's son.
"All the claims of the chief minister have proved false so far. Now the government is using bullets to suppress farmers' voice. Chouhan should resign immediately," the Congress leader said. The main opposition party also constituted a committee of MLAs "to investigate" the Mandsaur firing incident. Singh and the state Congress chief would visit Mandsaur on Wednesday.
Senior Congress leader and MP Jyotiraditya Scindia also condemned the incident. The BJP government dealt with the agitation through bullets instead of talks, he said. "This is a black day in the history of the state. It is shameful that the state government is crushing farmers' agitation. Farmers' demands are genuine," Scindia added.
Trouble was reported from many parts of western Madhya Pradesh as farmers' stir continued for the sixth day on Tuesday. In Indore, police used lathi charge following stone-pelting during a march by farmers. A police officer said that people taking part in the march started throwing stones at the police near Devi Ahilyabai Fruits and Vegetable Market, which led to lathi-charge.
In Dhar, farmers blocked the Indore-Ahmedabad national highway for about three hours. Farmers also staged protests at Amjhera and Ghoda Chowpati in the city. The shops in the local market remained closed all day in Neemuch city.
Meanwhile, Mahendra Patidar, president of MP Patidar Samaj, said they would cremate the bodies of victims who died in Mandsaur district on Tuesday only in the presence of the chief minister.
Rahul may visit Mandsaur on Wednesday
Meanwhile, IANS reported that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi may visit Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur on Wednesday.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi hit out at the BJP government over the farmer's protest, saying it is at war with them and "feeding" them with bullets for demanding their rights. Referring to the violence during the ongoing farmers' agitation in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur district, he said,"This government is at war with the farmers of our country."
"In BJP's new India, farmers demanding their rights get bullets in return," he said in a tweet. The Congress party also tweeted, "Those who give us food, the government is feeding them bullets - 3 farmers dead, several injured in police firing in MP."
Fadnavis says Maharashtra will announce biggest loan waiver ever
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis said the government would write off farm loans in the biggest such waiver ever in the state, but the promise had little impact on the farmers' strike, which entered its sixth day on Tuesday. Fadnavis, who said the government would announce the loan waiver before 31 October, added that the modalities were being worked out. About 1.07 crore farmers with less than five acres of land would be eligible for the waiver.
"I can say with conviction that this will be the biggest loan waiver in Maharashtra's history," Fadnavis told reporters after a meeting on urban development with Union Minister M Venkaiah Naidu in Mumbai on Tuesday.
But farmers, who have been agitating since 1 June to press for loan waivers, higher minimum support prices and other benefits, continued with the stir, despite the government announcing its loan waiver for marginal farmers on Saturday.
Prices shot up in various markets because of the short supply of vegetables and fruits. In Pune's Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), the inflow of vegetables and fruits was half of that of regular days, which led to prices going up by three to five times, officials said.
In Ahmednagar district, the inflow of vegetables was 1 percent of the usual supply, and there had been no milk collection. The daily business of around Rs 20-25 crore in 17 major APMCs in Nashik and other smaller market committees had come to a standstill, government sources said. Fadnavis, however, said 300 of the state's 307 APMCs were operational yesterday, four had their weekly day off, while three were shut because of the ongoing agitation. Transactions were at 85 per cent of normal levels.
He also said workers of political parties, and not farmers, were indulging in violence and road blockades. There was trouble in a few areas on Tuesday. Farmers locked the offices of the talathi (revenue officer) in some villages in Kolhapur and Nashik districts.
Agitating farmers dumped vegetables outside the divisional commissioner's office in Puntamba village in Ahmednagar district and in front of the district collector's office in Amravati.
The police took into custody 20 members of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna (SSS), who were holding a protest outside the collector's office in Sangli, and six SSS workers in Amaravati.
Meanwhile, market sources said the farmers' strike in Maharashtra had benefited traders from Surat, Belgaum, Indore and Delhi as the Vasai-Virar region was witnessing an influx of agricultural produce from outside the state.
The region has several vegetable markets with the produce usually coming in from Nashik, Junnar and Vashi. The stir had stopped the flow of vegetables from Maharashtra, they said.
"Traders from Surat, Delhi, Indore and Belgaum have taken advantage of the strike, increased the prices and the inflow of vegetables in the Vashi APMC by around 30 per cent," an official from the cooperatives department said.
The farmers' demand for loan waiver led government officials to do some arithmetic, with some estimating that it would cost the state Rs 30,000 crore.
Maharashtra's finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar, however, refused to divulge the financial details, but said the state was committed to helping the farmers. Mungantiwar said the government was looking to cover the burden with the help of an additional Rs 10,000 crore mobilisation through non-tax revenues, 14 percent growth in GSDP expected during the fiscal and also savings on expenses.
Naidu, however, reiterated the Centre's stand that states should announce loan waivers as per their fiscal situation. Chief minister Fadnavis gave a new twist to the stir, by stressing that road blockades were being carried out by political activists "hiding" behind farmers. He ruled out consulting "those seeking to make political gains" and said he would talk only to "true" farmer leaders.
Fissures in Sena-BJP alliance does little to help
The farmers' protest, which has rocked various parts of the state since the beginning of the month, has also exposed fissures in the ruling coalition in the state. The BJP-led government's allies Shiv Sena and the SSS are supporting the agitation.
The Sena warned the BJP if it did not cede to the demands, the "lava of farmers' pain" would create havoc. SSS leader Raju Shetti said his party would soon decide if it would continue to be a part of the BJP-led government.
The Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangle said he was "remorseful" to be a part of the Fadnavis government. "What should be done about it (on being a part of the state government) will be decided in a forthcoming meeting," he said in Miraj, about 385 km from here.
The Sena pointed out the government was considering suspending internet services in Nashik, where the agitation has been particularly intense. An editorial in Sena mouthpiece Saamana asked if the BJP compared "Nashik with restive Kashmir and protesting farmers with the anti-nationals who throw stones at the Army".
It added that the Sena would continue to support the strike till the end.
Lead us, striking farmers urge Raj Thackeray
In a surprise development, a delegation of top farmers' leaders met Maharashtra Navnirman Sena President Raj Thackeray on Tuesday in Mumbai and asked them to "lead them". The farmers leaders comprised activists hailing from Puntamba in Ahmednagar district which the call for the ongoing state-wide farmers' strike, on since 1 June, was given.
The delegation gave a detailed briefing on the six-day long agitation to the MNS leadership, the shutdown call which created a huge impact in rural Maharashtra, their demands, ways and means to intensify their agitation and take it further and related issues.
"Thackeray gave them a patient hearing, cleared all his doubts but has not given any assurance so far," a MNS leader, requesting anonymity told IANS.
Among other things, the farmers are believed to have expressed their grouse over what they felt was the ruling ally Shiv Sena's "double role", their lack of confidence among some political leaders and the absence of an aggressive leader (like Raj Thackeray) to lead them.
The farmers leaders, at the meeting held in the Thackeray residence at Shivaji Park this afternoon, included Bandhav Murlidhar Thorat, Babanrao Dhanvate, Shantilal Bhati, Ganesh Jadhav and Rajesh Lute.
With inputs from agencies
Published Date: Jun 07, 2017 10:47 am | Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 10:47 am