Amid raging farmers’ protests in Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has started his indefinite fast and will continue “until peace is restored”. The Chief Minister is sitting at Bhopal’s Dussehra Maidan, where, he said, people can come and discuss their problems with him. He has assured them of all help. “I won’t sit in my office at Mantralaya (secretariat). But I will do all work from here,” he said.
“Your labour won’t go waste,” he told farmers and added, “I know of the bumper crop production that has sent the prices crashing down in the state. I know your (farmers) problems,” he said.
He assured that the state government will buy their farm produce and give profitable prices to farmers. He is also believed to be considering waiving interest on farm loans, which could benefit over six lakh farmers at a cost of around 2,000 crore to the taxpayer. He made an emotional appeal to farmers, saying he has been a farmer and understands their problems.
Farmers’ protests started last week in Mandsaur over demand for better prices for their produce and debt relief. The protesting farmers blocked roads, vandalised property and set vehicles on fire on Tuesday. The police opened fire to control the situation.
The situation escalated when five farmers died on the spot and another farmer, who was allegedly detained by police died yesterday at a hospital. Those instigating violence would not be spared, Mr Chouhan said.
However, the opposition has called it a “drama” and criticised his “hypocrisy”.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ajay Singh told news agency IANS, “While the farmers in the state are on the roads with their demands, the Chief Minister has got down to this nautanki (drama). He will now spend crores of rupees in this Kejriwal-like drama.”
“The truth is that Chouhan is trying to divert the public’s attention from the core issue and is hence using all these cheap tricks,” added the Congress leader.
Communist Party of India-Marxist State Secretary Badal Saroj also told IANS, “This is nothing but hypocrisy.”
Farmers’ families who are already under debt burden, now have to deal with the loss of a loved one. Angry farmers want action against police officers who shot at the farmers and added that the “Rs. 1 crore compensation promised by the government won’t bring back their loved ones”.
Ahead of the assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh next year, the issue has been grabbed by opposition parties. On Thursday, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi attempted to travel to Mandsaur to meet the families of those killed in police firing. He switched from a car to two bikes and walked too, but was arrested before he could reach anywhere near Mandsaur.
More than 1,600 farmers killed themselves in Madhya Pradesh in 2016, according to official figures. Between 2011 and 2015, according to the National Crime Records Bureau, a total of 6076 farmers had committed suicide in the state.
In April, the new Uttar Pradesh government of Yogi Adityanath decided to waive farm loans. Other states and farmers’ organisations have been demanding a similar waiver.