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Posted at: Jul 16, 2017, 12:14 AM; last updated: Jul 16, 2017, 12:14 AM (IST)

Killing fields in MP’s opium belt spawn ‘protest tourism’

Chandrakant Naidu in Bhopal
A month after six persons died during farmers’ agitation in Mandsaur, a humongous relief package and govt bid to link the stir with opium smugglers cause disquiet within the ruling BJP
Killing fields in MP’s opium belt spawn ‘protest tourism’
Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Chouhan meets relatives of a farmer killed in the police firing. PTI
Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh, known as India’s opium production hub, is a new rallying point for pro-farmer protests. Six persons, one of them a teenager, were killed when protesting farmers were fired upon on June 6 near Mandsaur. For over a month since then, ‘Kisan yatras’ or marches have kept Mandsaur in the news through protest tourism.

But these demonstrations have not raised so much of dust as the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government’s new idea to capitalise on the drug links of Mandsaur. The state government which was on the back foot in the wake of last month’s firing is now aggressively oppressing the farmers by accusing them of acting at the behest of “opium smugglers.” Most startling is the case of Kanhaiyya Patidar, whose family received a compensation of Rs 1 crore for his death in police firing. Kanhaiyya Patidar is now posthumously declared an opium smuggler.

At least 600 farmers have been named in police reports for various crimes. The reports have drawn up a list of 32 opium smugglers with cases under Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act (NDPS). “We have identified 35 persons, accused of drug peddling in the past, who indulged in violence during the last month’s farmers’ protest. We have started arresting them,” says Mandsaur superintendent of police Manoj Kumar Singh.

The government once rode high on the farmers’ labour to claim Krishi Karman awards for miraculous “achievements” in agriculture production year after year. However, over 50 farmers have committed suicide in the state in the past one month, mostly due to debts. The National Human Rights Commission has also put the state on notice over these deaths. The police tried to project most suicides as caused by family feuds or other reasons such as drug addiction or ailments. But it acknowledged some as genuine cases of suicide.

Chouhan’s flip-flop on the agitation has drawn flak from the party too. Some members had frowned at his 28-hour fast that he staged after the firing and broke at the “insistence” of the father of a firing victim. The plan to get the victim’s father to persuade Chouhan was pre-meditated and the mourning man was brought to Bhopal even before the fast began.

Shortly after the firing, the government sought to douse the farmers’ fury by promising action against perpetrators of firing. It bought peace by promising strict action against district police and officials. Relatives of the six victims were offered an unprecedented compensation of Rs 1 crore each. A month on, it has not even filed an FIR against officials. On the other hand, cases filed against the agitators are being pursued with renewed vigour. 

The BJP is worried more because the belt has traditionally been an RSS stronghold. Any erosion in the vote bank could have a cascading effect on the party’s performance elsewhere in the state.

The BJP had planned a two-day state executive meeting to win back the farmers’ support. But it dropped the idea on sensing people’s anti-government mood.


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