Maharashtra, MP farmers' protest: How overconfident BJP failed to see farmers' discontent, mishandled agitation

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Chouhan calls himself ‘Kisan Putr’ (farmer’s son). In rallies after rallies, he repeats it and says that farmers' pain is his pain. But for days, when farmers were protesting across the state, his government remained in denial. The farmers were agitating, throwing agricultural produce on the roads and confronting the police.

And yet Chouhan, the astute politician, who is believed to have his hand on the pulse of the people, couldn’t fathom the extent of farmers’ anger. In fact, the state government took it casually from day one. Senior BJP leaders and ministers were dismissive of the protests in the beginning. When protests continued and its impact was felt — prices of vegetables started rising and milk began disappearing in cities, leaders took notice.

But the scale of protests didn’t stir government. In town after town, protesters threw vegetables and emptied milk tankers on the ground — moves that were criticised. Apparently, the farmers felt that they had no other way to shake the government. It was only after taking measures that the local media took note of the farmers’ anger. When the protests took a violent turn, BJP leaders said that they were anti-social elements who passed off as farmers. The spontaneous protests (that began after similar protests in Maharashtra), were not led by a single union, whose office-bearers could have been called and made to say good things like ‘after assurances we are ending stir’.

The government, on its end, tried various tactics — getting the chief minister felicitated by farmers. And on Monday, a BJP-supporting union was made to issue a statement that strike has ended. But, the next morning, the protests continued.

Farmers spilling out milk on a road during their state-wide protest over various demands in Aurangabad on Thursday. PTI

Farmers spilling out milk on a road during their state-wide protest over various demands in Aurangabad on Thursday. PTI

The farmers who are agitating for fair prices for the produce have gotten the impression that the state government was not serious. In fact, party leaders openly advocated strong police action against the agitators. Tempers had been soaring and on 6 June, there was firing which resulted in death of six farmers. Even after the incident, the party leadership in Madhya Pradesh tried to divert the entire issue. Local officials said that the firing was done to control the protesters who were turning violent.

Amid the presence of hundreds of people, the farmers were shot, but Home Minister Bhupendra Singh said that people were not killed in police firing.

So, how were they killed then? Of course, state government ordered a customary probe that would ‘reveal' it.

On Tuesday afternoon, the internet was also shut down in some districts.

Now, farmers are restive and Madhya Pradesh is still on the boil. A call for statewide bandh on Wednesday has been given. But the government fails to accept its mistakes or even acknowledge that there is a serious issue and that farmers are not willing to end the agitation. Chouhan has even blamed Congress for inciting the protesters.

This is a classic case of official apathy. It shows that, at every step, during the last few days, the state government and its leaders have tried to dismiss the protests which were visible to everyone, except the ruling political class.

Is it sheer chutzpah of the leaders (knowing that the Opposition is weak) that the BJP mishandled farmers’ protest so badly?

Chouhan has been firmly in the saddle for long — he had completed 11 years as chief minister this year.

The biggest battle that he has was fought was during the Vyapam scam. After probe was handed over to CBI and investigation slowed down, focus shifted from Vyapam. He managed to come out of its shadow and remained at the helm. Congress failed to turn Vyapam into a major issue. However, farmers form a large chunk of population in the state and their discontent could be his biggest challenge.

Madhya Pradesh may have bagged ‘Krishi Karman’ awards year after year but the situation on the ground is entirely different. Farmers are in distress. The benefits of schemes aren’t reaching them. This is BJP’s third term in the state and the anti-incumbency factor also seems to be working against him now. Chouhan’s test will be how he manages to deal with the discontent. The Assembly election is not too far.

Updated Date: Jun 07, 2017 11:36 AM

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