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

India Today - - BIG STORY - By Rahul Noronha

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

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