PRESSURE MOUNTS FROM CENTRE TO END FARMERS AGITATION
From L.S. Herdenia
BHOPAL: Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan sprang a surprise on his supporters and admirers alike on June 9 evening by announcing that he would go a fast-unto-death from June 10 to restore peace in the state. Apparently, he believes that like Bapu’s, his fast too would soothe frayed nerves and the farmers, who are on a rampage for the past ten days, would calm down.
How much moral force can a chief minister tainted by a litany of scams wield is anybody’s guess but even Chouhan’s political opponents say that this is a deft political move on his part. Local newspaper, in fact, referred to his decision as ‘Gandhigiri’.
For one, Chouhan knows very well that the farmers’ organisations spearheading the strike had announced at the very outset that their agitation would last from June 1 to June 10. And so, within hours of the chief minister beginning his fast (at 11 am on June 10), the agitation would cease and hopefully the violence would stop. And he can always walk away with the credit for restoring peace.
Secondly, Chouhan was reportedly under tremendous pressure from the BJP’s central leadership to put an end to the violence, which was decidedly putting a big question mark not only on the party’s ‘Sushasan’ claims but also on Chouhan’s image as a kisan leader. But he had no clue as to how to go about it. The only obvious option was to give a free hand to the police to deal with the rampaging mobs. But that could have potentially translated into more deaths and more injuries. And that was something Chouhan could ill-afford. Far from asking the police to deal sternly with the trouble-makers, the government has issued strict instructions to the field-level officers not to use force against the farmers. The police are dealing with the situation with their hands tied. Teargas and mild cane charge are all they are allowed to use.
Chouhan is extremely wary of a repeat of Mandsaur, where six farmers were killed in police firing, creating a nation-wide furore. And to date, no one even knows who ordered the firing.
Thirdly, the kisan agitation is almost leaderless and no organisation has, so far, come forward to negotiate with the government. At some places, Congress leaders are leading the agitation, at other places different farmers’ bodies are doing it and at some places there is no one who is, or even claims to be, the leader. The government was thus at sea on who to negotiate with. And there was no guarantee that even if it would ink and agreement with one organisation, the agitation would end.
Yet another way of ending the stir could have been an across-the-board farm loan waiver. But that was also not a viable option given the precarious financial health of the state and also because only a couple of days back Chouhan had categorically stated that there was no question of the government waiving off farmers loans. He could not have eaten his words so soon. Moreover, given the proverbial short public memory, he would like to use this potent vote-catcher in the election year (2018).
What must have added to Chouhan’s desperation was the fact that on June 9, the agitation reached right at his doorstep. Farmers indulged in vandalism and arson on the outskirts of Bhopal and the busy Bhopal-Indore highway was kept blocked for over six hours.
However, in a relief to Chouhan, two videos went viral on the social media on June 9, one showing a Congress MLA of Shivpuri district exhorting her supporters to set the local police station on fire and another in which a district Panchayat vice-chairman belonging to the Congress is seen urging his men to torch vehicles in a closed-door meeting. Both the videos substantiate the BJP’s charge that the Congress was instigating violence in the state.
Left with no options, Chouhan, in a desperate move, has begun his fast. The opposition has, predictably, described it as ‘escapism’ and ‘political stunt’. But that is not the issue for Chouhan. His issue is whether his gamble will pay off. (IPA Service)