Farmers' unrest in MP: Hardik Patel's plans to visit Mandsaur might backfire as farmers reject caste politics

Hardik Patel's attempts to fish in troubled waters have been thwarted as the local administration and police in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur have decided to deny him entry in the district. Mandsaur has been ground zero for farmers' agitation and mob violence that resulted in five deaths.

Patel, who had led a mass agitation seeking reservation for Patidars in Gujarat in 2015, is expected to arrive at Mandsaur on Tuesday after meeting farmers at Udaipur in Rajasthan. However, Patel is a week too late. Violence and arson in Mandsaur district was raging out of control last week and Patel's late reaction is not lost on the farmers of Mandsaur. Several farmers said they were aware of Patel's intentions and felt that if Patel truly wanted to do something for his "farmer brothers", he would have visited earlier.

Superintendent of Police, Mandsaur, Manoj Kumar Singh, however, told Firstpost that the officials haven't received any information about Patel's arrival.  "We don't have official confirmation or information about Hardik Patel's visit. Even though curfew has now been lifted in Mandsaur, Section 144 is still imposed. We had to stop Yogendra Yadav, Medha Patkar, Swami Agnivesh and others from entering Mandsaur. We didn't allow Madhya Pradesh minister for women and child development Archana Chitnis," Singh told Firstpost.

Investigators probing into the role of men aged between 17 to 25 years, who might have been involved in rampaging and inciting mob violence, while pretending to be farmers, are also trying to verify whether these youths are also aligned with Patel.

Patel spent six months in exile in Udaipur after a Gujarat High Court order and returned to his hometown in January 2017. He was released from jail in Gujarat in July 2016 after nine months in confinement.

A file image of Hardik Patel.

A file image of Hardik Patel.

"We have inputs that a week prior to farmers' agitation, a group of Patidar youths from Madhya Pradesh had a meeting with Patel in Jaipur. We are probing this angle," an officer, investigating the agitation and killing of the farmers, told Firstpost. According to Madhya Pradesh Patidar Samaj Sangathan, the Patidars from Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan have been working closely to launch a movement against all three state governments.

Patidars from Madhya Pradesh are usually supporters of the BJP. However, in sharp contrast, the Patidar farmers, who make up for the majority in the Malwa belt, say that their battle is related to farmers' distress whereas Patel is fighting for caste issues. They, therefore, wonder whether they should back him and why. Population of Patidars in Mandsaur district is about 10 lakh.

Caste is not an issue, in the otherwise peaceful region, and the credit goes to the protesters that even when the farmers' agitation was peaking, they did not lose focus of their agitation. The focal point of the agitation never changed and remained about low price for produce, non-implementation of Swaminathan Committee's formula for Minimum Support Price, delay in payments at grain mandis, etc.

Khemraj Patidar, a resident of village Nayakheda and uncle of Chain Ram Patidar, who was one of the five people killed on 6 June, said, "Patel is fighting for caste. His politics is about caste. While the Patidars of Mandsaur, Neemuch and other districts are fighting a battle related to farmers' issues, he is talking about caste. Why should we back him?"

Whether or not Patel plans to visit Mandsaur to further his political ambitions is up for speculation, but the fact remains that the farmers of Madhya Pradesh have no interest in Patel's politics. Attempts to polarise the farmers along caste lines in the region is hence useless.

Rajesh Tomar, a resident and a businessman in Mandsaur, decoded the demographic equation in the district: "The Patidars are wealthy and dominant farmers in the region with interests in business other than farming as well. In the past several decades, the issue of caste politics has never been on the agenda of the Patidars of Madhya Pradesh. Therefore, they are not sure of Patel's intentions as they are clearly not looking for a caste leader. It is obvious to all in the district that Patel is attempting to lift his own, non-existent political career by taking advantage of the situation here."

According to a Bhopal-based senior police official, "Patel is hoping to enter Mandsaur as his target is the younger generation — the sons of Patidar farmers who have not taken up farming as a means of livelihood yet seem keen on aligning with him to get a political identity. He won't be allowed to enter Mandsaur."

Updated Date: Jun 13, 2017 11:10 AM

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