Mandsaur: Farmer protests spread across Madhya Pradesh on Thursday even as the epicentre of the agitation, Mandsaur, remained relatively peaceful, on a day when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi made an attempt to meet the farmers but was stopped before entering the district.
While curfew continued in Mandsaur, except for a two-hour relaxation, incidents of arson were reported from Shajapur and Dhar districts in western part of the state on the eighth day of the agitation for loan waiver and better crop price.
The authorities also prevented Rahul Gandhi and a number of other Congress leaders from entering Mandsaur. Gandhi travelled by air, by car, by motorcyle and by foot from Delhi to Neemuch district of Madhya Pradesh via Rajasthan before he was detained and arrested in Naya Gaon, about 70 km from Mandsaur.
He slammed Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the problems being faced by the farmers, evoking a sharp response from the BJP which termed his visit to Mandsaur as a “photo opportunity”.
Gandhi, accompanied by few senior leaders of the state and JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, tried to make his way to Mandsaur through the Rajasthan border.
There was high drama as the police tried to stop what had turned into a rally of sorts with Gandhi leading from the front. When police tried to push him back, he ran into a field nearby from where he was detained.
Gandhi was released after over four hours of detention in the guest house of a cement company. They were later released on the border.
Just before his detention, the Congress vice president said Prime Minister Narendra Modi "can't give the right rates for farmers' agriculture produce, can't give them bonus, can’t give them compensation... He can only give them bullets."
The BJP termed Gandhi's visit to Mandsaur as a "photo opportunity" and accused the Congress of "fuelling violence" in the farmers' protests.
Later in the evening, Gandhi met the kin of four of the five deceased farmers who were brought to Rajathan's Chittorgarh district by Congress workers.
He lashed out at the BJP governments in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh for stopping him from visiting Mandsaur and demanded martyr status for the farmers who were killed in the "barbaric" police action.
Talking to reporters, he said, "I wanted to meet the families for two minutes to say that we are with them, but I was not allowed. I only wanted to share their grief....Am I not a citizen of this country? Am I not allowed to visit Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and other (BJP ruled) states just because I do not belong to the RSS?"
He attacked the Modi government, saying it has forgotten the farmers and was only interested in waiving the debt of "50 richest people" of the country.
Amid the increasing political slugfest, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which is facing a major crisis, shunted out the collector and superintendent of police of Mandsaur district, two days after five farmers were killed in police firing during a violent protest.
A police inspector, who had allegedly fired at the protestors on Tuesday, was also removed from field duty and sent to police lines.
The state’s home minister Bhupendra Singh said five farmers had been killed in police firing despite the earlier claim that police did not fire during the protests. He said Pipliamandi Town Inspector Anil Singh Thakur, who had allegedly fired at the farmers causing casualties, had been removed from field duty and sent to the Mandsaur police lines.
To bring back normalcy, the Chief Minister made a fresh attempt to reach out to the agitating farmers, saying the state government was open for a dialogue to iron out the differences and once again appealed them to maintain peace.
Appealing to the farmers to maintain calm, he said, "Only talks can end the differences.” He said, "The state government is of farmers and public. I will continue to work for them."