Bhopal: After a couple of days of calm, Madhya Pradesh could witness a new wave of protests. This time from the influential Patidar community.
People close to Hardik Patel say that he’s preparing to visit Mandsaur – the place where six farmers were killed in police firing on June 6, and the epicenter of state-wide violence, anytime this week.
Patel is scheduled to participate in an event on Monday evening in Udaipur, and from there he is likely to leave for Mandsaur, though he is unlikely to get police permission for it.
Hardik Patel has grown into an influential Patidar leader after he led a mass agitation seeking reservation for Patidars in Gujarat in 2015. And since then he’s constantly built upon the anti-BJP sentiment among Patels or Patidars as they’re known in central and north-west part of the country.
Of the seven farmers who died in the recent violent agitations in Madhya Pradesh, five were Patidars.
Soon after the farmer crisis hit the state last week, it was clear that of the elements, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was most concerned about the sentiments of the Patidar community.
From the manner in which he immediately announced compensation to the kin of the deceased even as ministers in his cabinet were calling protesters ‘anti-social elements’. Or revising the compensation amount to each family from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore in a matter of hours, without waiting for results of the inquiry he had ordered only earlier during the day, showed how worried the CM was about the Patidar vote.
Patidars have been, till now, among the oldest supporters of the BJP and before it of the Jana Sangh. As far back as the third Lok Sabha polls, in 1962, when Jana Sangh for the first time secured double digit figures, among the constituencies it had won was Mandsaur and Dewas —places which have witnessed violence recently.
In fact the Malwa region, where most of the recent protests have happened, has been quite accommodating to the RSS since its birth in 1925. The BJP has won seats in this region continuously since its formation in 1980. Which is why unprecedented protests in this region has rattled the confidence of the party that was otherwise looking to form a government in the state for the fourth consecutive time.
Patidars had begun showing signs of estrangement with the ruling BJP government since last year when the Chouhan dispensation tweaked land acquisition rules to make it easier for the private sector to acquire land from farmers.
Demonetisation only widened this rift. Having just recovered from two back to back droughts, Patidar farmers took another financial hit when banks coffers ran dry. While private sector banks resumed normal operations after a few weeks, the state cooperative banks struggled and still have not been able to resume normal operations.
And BJP made matters worse for itself by refusing to acknowledge issues that Patidar farmers raised over the last one year—minimum support price, power, water and mounting debts. The killing of the seven farmers was the final straw.
There are 60 lakh Patidars in Madhya Pradesh and the BJP is now feeling heat from almost each one of them.
“The BJP insulted us not only by refusing to talk to us over the last one year, but by calling us ‘anti-social’ elements. Then they call us Congress agents. We have never felt as insulted and threatened before and the BJP will have to pay the price of this,” said Tulsiram Patidar, district head of a Patidar outfit – Sardar Patel Yuva Sangathan.
Retaliating to the large scale violence, the police have booked thousands of people on various charges – from rioting to arson – and of these many are Patidars. More than 3,000 as per estimate of one Patidar leader.
While a sense of quiet seems to have prevailed in Madhya Pradesh after nearly 10 days of chaos (farmers had called for protests from June 1 to June 10), Patidars on the ground say the peace is only temporary.
“The media may be telling everyone that peace and normalcy have returned to the state but let me tell you, on the ground, among farmers and Patidars in particular, there is only unease and anger against the current government,” said Nandkishor Patidar, a member of Madhya Pradesh Patidar Samaj Sangathan.
So unrelenting was the anger against Chouhan, in particular, that the Patidar families whose members were killed in the police firing had refused to cremate their bodies till the CM himself came and offered an apology.
Members of these Patidar families were reported to have not only refused state compensation but instead offered double the compensation to the state if it could help launch proceedings against Chouhan.
Relatives of a slain protestor Satyanarayan Patidar had asked Rahul Gandhi, who had recently visited the state, to help them book Shivraj Chouhan for the deaths.
The MP CM had, in order to assuage, called some Patidars to his residence on the June 9. He had promised strict action against the police officers involved in the incidents and had assured them of launching fresh FIRs in these cases soon. However these meetings also seem to have proved futile, as one of the Patidar leaders who met the CM told News18.
“I met the CM on the 9th with some other community members. He had promised instant action, but three days have passed and we haven’t heard from anyone. Just in order to give the state some time to act, we have paused the movement on the ground. But we will not accept status quo. The state has actually back-stabbed us by booking 3,000 Patidars for the recent protests,” said Mahendra Patidar, the state head of Madhya Pradesh Patidar Samaj Sangathan.
He added that Patidar outfits from three states – Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Rajasthan – were working closely to launch a movement against the government in all three states.
For the first time in several years the BJP seems to have suffered political capital in the recent farmer protests.
The party will not only be concerned about losing their core voter base – the Patidars. It also has reasons to be anxious as the Congress and Hardik Patel are looking to join forces against the BJP in the upcoming Assembly elections.
It is too early to predict the implications of the current agitation on the Assembly polls, but the influential Patidar community seems to be swinging away from the BJP at the moment.