STILL NOT OUT OF THE WOODS
The farmers’ agitation in MP tests CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s kisan putra image and the state’s glorious agricultural track record
Aweek is a long time in politics. Union minister for agriculture Radha Mohan Singh rediscovered the truism the hard way. Just two weeks ago, he told india today that the central government would like to emulate the Madhya Pradesh model of growth in agriculture. A week later, five farmers in the state were killed in police firing, a sixth died on Friday of injuries sustained during curfew, highways in western MP were cut off, about 150 vehicles were torched, a DM was manhandled and railway lines damaged by agitating farmers.
With an average growth rate of nearly 20 per cent in the past four years, MP has been touted as an agricultural success story for some time now. It has helped Shivraj Singh Chouhan portray himself as kisan putra, a son of the soil, who has led the growth story in the state from the front. That legend came undone with the recent agrarian unrest, helping even the hitherto comatose Opposition Congress come alive on the emotive issue. Now that the agitation is petering out, Chouhan is trying to recover lost ground. And so has begun a round of competitive satyagrahas in state capital Bhopal, first by Chouhan and to be followed by Guna MP Jyotiraditya Scindia.
But why did farmers in MP erupt the way they did, in a state posting astounding growth rates? Directed mainly through social media, the agitation had no clear leadership. The call for the 10-day strike from June 1 to 10 was given by a clutch of farmers’ organisations, the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU)—which has little or no roots in MP— the most prominent among them. The Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (BKMS)—an offshoot of the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), extended support too. BKMS president Shivkumar Sharma ‘Kakkaji’ has a history of confrontation with Chouhan and has had numerous run-ins with him in the past.
Even the demands of the farmers—to write off farm loans as announced in Uttar Pradesh, and work out remunerative prices for agricultural produce, at 50 per cent above the input cost—had more to do with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promises in the run-up to the 2014 general elections than with any problems in the state.
The simultaneous strike by farmers in Maharashtra served to add a larger dimension to the agitation. As their counterparts in Maharashtra threw vegetables and milk on the roads, farmers in MP prevented the entry of fruits, vegetables and milk into commercial capital Indore.
Then, on June 4, Chouhan suddenly announced that the strike had been called off and addressed a joint conference with state BKS president Shivkant Dixit. Other farmers’ organisations were quick to term it a sellout and accused it of being ‘staged’ since the BKS was never really part of the agitation.
That’s when the agitation picked up in western MP. On June 6, farmers who had blocked the Mandsaur Neemuch highway were seen burning trucks and attacking traders in Piplia Mandi in Mandsaur district. As it is relations between traders, mainly from the Jain and Vaishya communities, and farmers from the Patidar and Dhakad communities have been strained since the days of demonetisation. The farmers saw the agitation as a chance to settle scores. Mandsaur being a prominent poppy cultivation area in
Farm loan waivers will be a blow to state finances, with government borrowing already at its limits