Mandsaur: BJP govt still in cleft stick

Mandsaur: BJP govt still in cleft stick

Mandsaur town in Madhya Pradesh, which hit the headlines with the death of six farmers in police firing on June 6, seems to have turned into political runway for every protesting group to take off. For over a month since the firing at Piplya Mandi, 15 kms off Mandsaur several groups have launched “Kisan Yatras” from the town and kept it in the news for protest tourism.

However, these protests haven’t kicked up so much of dust as the state government’s new idea to exploit on the other globally-known image of Mandsaur — as India’s opium production hub. The state government, which was pushed on the back foot after last month’s police firing, is now aggressively oppressing the farmers by accusing them of acting at the behest of 'opium smugglers'.

At least 600 farmers have been named in police reports for various crimes. It has drawn up a list of 32 opium smugglers with cases under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS). Most startling is the case of Kanhaiyya Patidar, whose family received a compensation of Rs 1 crore on his death in police firing. Patidar is now posthumously declared an opium smuggler.

Police claim that a ban on regulated opium farming and its business in Mandsaur and adjoining Neemuch district has rendered many people jobless since past two years. Drug peddlers and people associated with the banned trade had participated in the farmers' agitation, say the police.

If the agitators were anti-social elements, why was the family of one of them paid a compen­sation? That too of Rs 1 crore on his death? If smugglers are backing the agitation, why are other farmers taking their own lives for their inability to repay loans?

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government used to ride high on the farmers’ hard work to cla­im Krishi Karman awards year after year for miraculous “achi­evements” in agriculture production. The achievements were too big to be true and were obviously built on fudged figures.

Now, after 55 farmers have committed suicide in the state in the past one month, the BJP government is trying to wiggle out of the cleft stick by blaming the opposition and anti-social elements. Intelligence agencies failed to assess the magnitude of the crisis when the agitation was on. On hindsight, they found the drug peddlers’ angle most convenient to deal with the embarrassment.

The National Human Rights Commission has also put the state government on notice over the farmers’ deaths. The state police tried to project most suicides as caused by family feuds or other reasons like drug addiction or ailments.

Chouhan’s flip flop on the agitation has also drawn flak from the senior party members. Some members had frowned at Shivraj Chouhan’s 28-hour fast that he staged in a specially-erected air-conditioned tent after the Mandsaur firing and ended it at the “insistence” of the father of a firing victim. The plan was pre-meditated. Even before the fast began, the victim’s father was brought to Bhopal to “persuade” Chouhan to end it.

Initially, the government sought to douse the farmers’ fury by promising action against perpetrators of firing. It bought pea­ce with a promise to take strict action against district police and civil officials. However, a month on, the government didn’t even filedan FIR against the officials. On the other hand, cases filed against the agitators are being pursued with renewed vigour.

The Mandsaur effect should worry the ruling party more because the fertile and prosperous belt has traditionally been an RSS stronghold. Any erosion in the vote-bank here could have a cascading effect on party’s performance elsewhere.

Unbridled bureaucrats

The RSS expectedly organised a coordination meeting in Bhopal with senior BJP functionaries and ministers in attendance. The RSS was critical of the government and the party organisation for disconnect with the capillary level workers.

The unbridled bureaucratic machinery was also a subject of concern. The RSS representatives felt the MLAs were unable to gauge public resentment over policy failures. There have been murmurs of protest from the opposition over the RSS dictating terms to the government.

The BJP had planned a two—day state executive meeting at Mandsaur to win back the farmers’ support. But it dropped the idea on sensing the anti-government mood among people. It will now hold a one-day meeting in Bhopal instead.

To counter the opposition resurgence, the ruling party also organised a Kisan Sandesh yatra to reconnect with the farmers. The farmers’ indifferent response has added to the anxiety of the leadership.

Chief Minister Chouhan has been contradicting himself in different speeches. He was so far suggesting that agriculture continues to be the most profit­able occupation and youth sho­uld come forward to cultivate land. But in recent speeches, he has been asking the youth to move away from agriculture to take up trades that would red­uce dependence on agriculture.

The state government might find itself on sticky wicket when the monsoon session of the Assembly which started on July 18. More than 70% of the ass­embly questions relate to farmers’ problems.

(The writer is a Bhopal-based political commentator)

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