RSS affiliate-led MP farmers' stir embarrasses BJP

RSS affiliate-led MP farmers' stir embarrasses BJP

The question doing the rounds is can Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan weather the current storm caused by farmers protest. Opinion is divided on whether the BJP can afford to sacrifice him at such a crucial juncture – with elections due in Gujarat this year, in Madhya Pradesh next year and Lok Sabha polls in two years.

The year-round electoral calendar sets a BJP chief minister’s priorities in the following order: canvassing for the party, keeping the RSS in good humour and governing the state in the remaining left. Kept constantly in election mode for best part of his third term, Chouhan has apparently jaded as an administrator.

Tuesday’s police firing in Mandsaur left five farmers dead and busted the state government’s claims on the agricultural front yet again. Significantly, the agitation has shaken the government in the RSS stronghold of Malwa region. What Mandsaur witnessed was an encore of the inept show. The first sign of trouble was seen in December 2010 when thousands of farmers from across the state, led by the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), an affiliate of the RSS, laid siege to the chief minister’s residence and held the state capital to ransom to protest the government’s alleged anti-farmer policies. In a subsequent agitation that led to police firing, a BJP sarpanch was killed at Bareli, 95 km from Bhopal.

That a BJP front organisation outdid the Opposition in targeting it, embarrassed the government. It engineered a split in the BKS and one faction called off the strike. The Kisan Sangh disowned its president Shivkumar Sharma. The RSS also slammed the door on him.

Six years on, the BKS led by Shivkant Dikshit and the Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (BKMS) led by Shivkumar Sharma again squared up against the government in Mandsaur and predictably enough, the government engaged the Dikshit faction for negotiations and it called off the strike. The BKMS stood the ground to challenge the government’s might.
The government’s response betrayed unusual diffidence. It first announced Rs 5 lakh compensation for the kin of the dead and ended up raising it to an astronomical Rs 1 crore - unheard so far. Critics said the government was triggering anarchy by first calling the victims anti-social elements and then offering them eight-digit sum as compensation. Home Minister Bhupendra Singh, who first insisted that the police never fired on the farmers in Mandsaur, had to eat his words.

The Nimar-Malwa belt, the more fertile and prosperous part of the state, has for long been the stronghold of the RSS. It is the epicentre of the fresh protest. The police and bureaucracy have also been a big let-down. R K Shukla, the police officer who headed the intelligence unit during the 2010 fiasco, now heads the state police. Additional Director General (Intelligence) Rajiv Tandon, who had crucial inputs about the farmers’ agitation long before June 1, ignored the advice to retain the force in the affected districts. Agriculture Secretary Rajesh Rajaura has been away in London even after the farmers’ notice for the agitation.

The party and government present themselves as a bundle of contradictions. The chief minister and the agriculture minister, both agriculturists, have constantly been charged with overlooking the small farmer’s interest. Madhya Pradesh had won the Krishi Karman award for high agricultural production for four successive years, but the path to glory has been soaked in the blood of farmers. Suicides by more than 7,500 farmers in the past five years cannot be attributed to the Congress’ doings. During the Budget Session of the state Assembly, the government admitted in the Vidhan Sabha that 287 farmers, including agricultural labourers, had committed suicide between November 2016 and February 2017. Krishi Karman Awards have unmistakable signs of fudged figures about them. Ironically, it is Agriculture Minister Gaurishankar Bisen who had said that the wheat recycled from the PDS shops helps the state in winning awards. In 2015, the state witnessed a strange paradox: while it won the award, it demanded a compensation of Rs 5,000 crore to be paid to the farmers for losses suffered in 45 out of the 51 districts. At least 1,090 farmers were reported to have ended their lives that year. Half the deaths occurred in the Nimar-Malwa region.

People’s wrath

Few party leaders have enjoyed the kind of pan-Madhya Pradesh popularity that helped Chouhan win more elections for the party than any of his predecessors. Chouhan’s adversaries privately suggest the entire party is facing the people’s wrath for the arrogance of some of Chouhan’s coterie. Most violent farmers’ rallies so far have been led by the BKS. So, the party’s troubles are “home grown.” Chouhan’s modest presence has fitted the bill for the party and the Sangh. The resultant uni-polarity within the party was bound to breed discontent.

Former chief minister and octogenarian BJP dissident Babulal Gaur issued a statement countering every argument the government put forward in its defence over Mandsaur debacle. He said farmers all over the country are not getting their due. Their anger is spontaneous and it is unfair to blame it on anti-social elements. He virtually absolved the Congress of fanning the trouble. The Congress should feel flattered by the accusations of fuelling the farmers’ agitation against the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh. To the despair of its rank and file, the Congress leadership has squandered many opportunities to capitalise on public issues. Even on the current agitation, the party leaders marked their presence mostly in the media and not on the streets. The popular joke in the state is that with its self-enamoured leaders, the Congress doesn’t need enemies. And, with a foe like Congress, the BJP doesn’t need more friends.

(The writer is a senior journalist based in Bhopal)

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