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Madhya Pradesh farmers' strike: Inside Mandsaur disturbance lies history of political doles, opium addiction

There’s no doubt that the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh messed up handling the situation in Mandsaur on at least three fronts. First, it could’ve been vigilant and heeded the simmering discontent over farm loan waivers, taken leaders of the farming community into confidence and worked out a solution thereby preventing this unfortunate violent eruption.

Second, the law enforcement agency could’ve moved in early and curtailed the said violent outbreak given its potential for unleashing the sort of political mischief that we’re now witnessing.

 Madhya Pradesh farmers strike: Inside Mandsaur disturbance lies history of political doles, opium addiction

Farmers' agitation turns violent as they torch trucks at Mhow-Neemuch Highway in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh on 7 June. PTI

Third, which relates to the second, is the aftermath of the tragic shooting of the five farmers. Because the Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government in Madhya Pradesh didn’t quite act with the requisite alacrity, it allowed the situation to spread to Maharashtra and Rajasthan.

But as it happens in such cases — there’s incomplete information as to what actually triggered the violent reaction and the real situation on the ground — there’s more than what meets the eye. The deluge of reports in this age of information overload also doesn’t help obtain a reasonably accurate picture. But despite that what almost no report mentioned is the precise nature of farming that occurs in the Mandsaur region. Together with Neemuch in Rajasthan, Mandsaur, and indeed the entire Malwa-Mewar belt happens to be one of the largest sites of poppy cultivation from which opium is extracted in India. In this context, a May 2012 India Today investigative report is worth examining in some detail.

According to the report "the Malwa-Mewar belt spanning Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh is home to 38,000 hectares of licensed opium cultivation" and is a "hotbed of opium smuggling". With smugglers offering a much better bargain, under-reporting produce to make a killing in the grey market is too lucrative it adds. In fact, the report says that smugglers offer Rs 7,000 a kg and more if it is processed into heroin and that drugs smuggled from the Malwa-Mewar belt make their way to the international circuit.

"The prosperity from poppy fields and the illicit trade in opium has trickled down everywhere... Real estate prices have shot up... Opium licences are a symbol of prestige... There is not a single family without drug addicts in villages like Harvar...," it adds.

The same report also mentions the existence of and frequent gang wars for procuring opium licenses in the region. Opium addiction reached such deadly proportions that in July 2015, the Rajasthan High Court issued an order "cancelling all doda (the leftover husk of the opium plant once the milk has been extracted) permits and its vendors. Keeping hardcore addicts in mind, it directed the government to make the substance available only on a doctor’s prescription".

Given this background, it’s reasonable to conclude that a deeper probe is needed into the background and the causes that may have instigated the violence that seemingly materialised out of thin air.

While the issue of the unending, sorry plight of poor farmers across India is a real and urgent problem that needs fixing, even then one needs to sift the wheat from the chaff in this discourse.

The moment the word "farmer" appears, it's automatically taken to mean "poor", "suffering", "oppressed", "debt-ridden", etc, in the public imagination. To which one is forced to recall the instance of one of India’s richest farmers, Sharad Pawar whose forays in the field are legendary, to put it mildly. Needless to say, this list is also populated by numerous other legislators and Members of Parliament.

All of this evokes questions on the agriculture policy of loan waivers, and other freebies, which after being used as a vote-catching net for decades by several states, has destroyed the sector and ended real human lives. One of the glaring examples of this failure is the disastrous free-power-for-farmers largesse that the late Andhra Pradesh chief minister YS Rajashekhara Reddy unleashed after coming to power in 2004. What actually transpired was that the near-feudal and sprawling landowners in the state reaped the bounty emanating from this free power while it was status quo for the poor ones.

As some have noted, while the success of the central government’s E-NAM (National Agriculture Market) is commendable, it’s up to the states to stop this culture of freebies in an already battered sector. To put it bluntly, the decades-long culture of giving out doles has devastated the lives, livelihoods, and moral standards of our farmers across states. And reform will occur with a change in the narrative, which is currently focussed on politicisation rather than problem-solving.

The latest instance: a post-Bhagavad Gita-enlightened Rahul Gandhi who promptly arrived on the scene, breaking the law by pillion-riding helmetless on a two-wheeler which seated three people. Needless to say, it followed the familiar script enacted in Bhatta Parasaul in Uttar Pradesh and more recently in Telangana, and targetted Narendra Modi as if he was the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh. As happened in the previous instances, it’s anybody’s guess as to how many times Rahul Gandhi will follow up.

Together with former Madhya Pradesh chief minister Digvijaya Singh, perhaps Gandhi needs to be reminded that it was under the successive regimes of his own party that Madhya Pradesh earned the inglorious membership into the BIMARU (Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh) club. Or the fact that his own Madhya Pradesh constituency continues to remain in shambles, underdevelopment and poverty.

Indeed, if the Congress really intends to soothe the farmers and victims, it needs to take them into confidence through peaceful means and not fuel rage with politically-charged antics. The said confidence also involves extending grace and a helping hand to the Madhya Pradesh government no matter who is the ruling party. That is the conduct of statesmen. Or, in the parlance of parliamentary democracy, it’s also called political decency.

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Updated Date: Jun 09, 2017 17:46:13 IST