Former RSS leader and Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh national convener Shivkumar Sharma, who has appropriated leadership of the farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh, had led a farmers’ protest against shortage of gunny bags in Bareli town of the state in May 2012. He was then Bharatiya Kisan Sangh’s (BKS) general secretary. The 2012 protest had turned violent, with farmers setting on fire government property and vehicles. Protesters also beat up police and government officials. In the firing that followed, a farmer was killed and several others were injured.
But authorities had denied that the protesters had been fired upon even as a state rights panel probe in November 2012 concluded that the police had used excessive force and fired 23 rounds, including 18 from an AK-47 weapon. Sharma was jailed and several cases were slapped against him. The RSS sacked him after the BJP sought Sharma’s expulsion while he was in jail.
The BJP called him a blackmailer and accused him of instigating farmers as “his illegal demands for mining leases and other favours were not fulfilled’’. Sharma approached the Registrar of Firms and Societies after he was released on bail. He claimed that his removal was illegal and that he continues to be the farmers’ body leader.
In February 2013, Sharma claimed to having the backing of lakhs of farmers and floated Kisan Mazdoor Praja Party. He had said that he would contest all seats in the Assembly elections that were due that year. The BJP began withdrawing criminal cases against Sharma in an apparent trade-off ahead of the polls. He put up a token fight, winning 424 out of 3.38 crore votes polled in November 2013. Sharma had then claimed that he was against withdrawal of cases against him.
Sharma had earlier jolted the state government by mobilising farmers, who entered Bhopal with tractor-trolleys at night and brought traffic to a standstill before 2012. He was nowhere in the picture when the latest agitation began on june 1. Anil Yadav of the little-known Bharatiya Kisan Union was believed to be mobilising farmers for the last couple of months. He announced the agitation a fortnight ago but nobody took him seriously then. Yadav was detained along with another office-bearer of his organisation when things went out of hand on Sunday.
Sharma, who entered the scene a couple of days later, said on Wednesday that the anger was building up for several years. “This anger is not sudden, but an explosion of pent-up feelings.’’ He asked the government to introspect rather than blaming “anti-social elements” for instigating the farmers. He insisted that eight farmers had been killed on Tuesday. “I have appealed protesters to keep calm but they are so angry that they are taking law into their own hands,’’ he said.
He blamed the BKS and the BJP government for the mess. He claimed that the farmers were burdened with Rs 45,000 crore debt, which was Rs 2,000 crore a few years ago.