Eight days after police opened fire in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, ostensibly to control violent protests by farmers and left five of them dead, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan met relatives of the victims on Wednesday. This came on a day Congress leaders began a 72-hour satyagrah in state capital Bhopal. With garlanded portraits of the victims next to a bigger portrait of Mahatma Gandhi on the dais, Congress’s chief whip in Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia led the satyagrah and took on the Chouhan government for the police firing. “June 6 has become a black day for not just Madhya Pradesh but the entire country,’’ he said. At ground zero of the farmer protest, seven helipads had been built to facilitate Chouhan’s visit to homes of the six victims – five allegedly died in police firing and one succumbed later in custody – due to apprehension over angry farmers accosting the Chief Minister in rural areas if he undertook the journey by road.
According to insiders, Chouhan had so far avoided travelling to Mandsaur because anger was palpable in the first few days of the deaths. The district administration ensured that the Rs 1 crore compensation promised by the BJP government in the state to families of each victim was electronically transferred to accounts of beneficiaries before the Chief Minister’s visit, according to sources.
While Chouhan did not face much protest, at one house, a victim’s wife reportedly asked whether he would he able to return her husband if she offered him Rs 2 crore. While promising to punish the guilty, Chouhan assured jobs to one member from each family.
When the father of one victim told him that his land was mortgaged, the CM reportedly said he would get it freed. At another place, he said the road in the village would be named after the victim.
In Bhopal, Scindia, the Lok Sabha MP from Guna in MP who, along with other Congress leaders, was detained outside Mandsaur on Tuesday since Section 144 was in force, alleged, “Rakshak bhakshak ban chuke hai (Our protectors have become our destroyers)…. Farmers had helped the BJP to come to power in the state, but they are now being subjected to oppression.’’
He alleged that the government’s policies are driving farmers to commit suicide.
Before reaching Bhopal, Scindia also met Kamlabai Mewada, an elderly woman who was allegedly beaten by the police. Five of her relatives, who were purportedly taking part in the protests, are still in jail.
Calling Chouhan’s 28-hour fact an act of “uphaas (joke)”, Scindia asked the CM, “If situation had not improved why did you call off your fast? And if it had improved, why was Section 144 in force in Mandsaur until 8 pm on Tuesday?”
Noted lawyer Vivek Tankha said the Congress will move the court because no protocol had been observed before police opened fire and called it culpable homicide. “Why has no case of murder been lodged so far,’’ he asked.