The Past, Present, and Future of Farmer Protest in Madhya Pradesh

Farmers throw away milk during their strike in Bhopal (Image: PTI Photo)

Farmers throw away milk during their strike in Bhopal (Image: PTI Photo)

Madhya Pradesh suffered two back-to-back droughts, hundreds of farmer suicides and mass exodus of workers between 2014 and 2015.

Suhas Munshi
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Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh suffered two back-to-back droughts, hundreds of farmer suicides and mass exodus of workers between 2014 and 2015. Then normal rainfall was registered in the state in 2016, but the situation didn’t improve. According to information submitted to the state Assembly, 1695 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide between November and mid-November last year.

The information available with state Assembly and state crime bureau shows that nearly 20,000 farmers have killed themselves in MP in the past 15 years. The agrarian distress in Madhya Pradesh is severely understated its farmers say, who have been on a statewide stir, demanding government intervention since June 1. Just like their counterparts in neighbouring Maharashtra.

What happened in Mandsaur, 325 km from Bhopal, on Tuesday was part of a farmer agitation demanding, among other things, a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce. MSP is the price fixed by the government to protect farmers against fluctuations in prices of crops. In a way it is a guaranteed price for farmers’ produce by the government.

Farmers in the state have been demanding that recommendations of Swaminathan Committee be implemented. MS Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist, had released a report back in 2006, recommending that MSP for crops should be at least 50 per cent more than their cost of production. BJP had included this recommendation in its 2014 general election manifesto.

But in an interview to PTI last month, on the occasion of Modi government completing three years in office, BJP president Amit Shah had claimed that no government can meet the Swaminathan formula for calculating the cost of production.

The spot where six people lost their lives on Monday in police firing, a claim that police officials till now have denied, is located in the most agriculturally distressed pocket of Western Madhya Pradesh. Areas like Ujjain, Ratlam, Neemuch and Mansaur, which have been placed under curfew and Internet ban, have seen farmer agitations for over a month now.

Several farmer unions have been coming out in protest against government’s inaction for last several weeks, except the RSS-backed Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, which claims government had accepted most of its demands like buying onions at Rs 8 a kg and paying farmers half their dues at mandis in cash and the remaining via electronic transfer to their bank accounts.

“We don’t support the sort of hooliganism that was on display in the state. We don’t support wasting vegetables and milk and being aggressive. Since the government has met all our demands, we are not going to participate in any stir. If at all, we come out on roads in protests, it will happen in November-December, when farmers will be free,” said BKS state secretary Manmohan Vyas.

However, the president of Kisan Union, Shivkumar Sharma, said the state government was lying to people. “The government has lied to us on all counts. As a matter of fact, eight, not six, people have died in police firing. We will take the farmer stir to national level in the coming days,” Sharma said in a press conference in Indore.

The killing of farmers in Mandsaur is also significant for another reason. Of the six dead, five are from the Patidar community — Kanhailal Patidar, Bablu Patidar, Chainram Patidar, Abhushek Patidar and Satyanarayan Patidar.

With elections in Gujarat, where Hardik Patel has been leading a Patidar-led agitation against BJP, and Madhya Pradesh due next year, this is likely to become a bigger headache for the party.

While MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced Rs 1 crore compensation to the kin of the deceased, apart from announcing a judicial probe, fresh violence was reported in the region on Wednesday.

The kin of the deceased have refused to bury their dead and have blocked a road in Badkheda, refusing to cremate the dead till the Chief Minister comes and apologises in person.

All opposition leaders, from Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to the Left’s Sitaram Yechury, to regional party leaders like SP president Akhilesh Yadav, RJD president Lalu Prasad Yadav and Trinamool Supremo Mamata Banerjee have reacted strongly against the killing of farmers.

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