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Anti-riot paramilitary forces on Thursday moved into violence-hit areas of Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, but the situation appeared to be improving in the troubled regions where farmers have been protesting for over a week demanding debt relief. As contingents of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) fanned out into the district, the state government shunted out Mandsaur collector Swatantra Singh and Superintendent of Police O P Tripathi.
Curfew, imposed on Wednesday after escalating violence, was relaxed for two hours from 4 pm, as officials said the situation appeared to be improving. The police, however, said some areas were still tense. In Naya Gaon, about 70 kms from Mandsaur, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, accompanied by senior Congress leaders and JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav, was detained by the police when the opposition leaders tried to make their way from the Rajasthan border to Mandsaur, the ground zero of the farmer protests.
There was high drama as the police tried to stop what had turned into a rally of sorts with Gandhi leading from the front. When police tried to push him back, he ran into a field nearby from where he was detained. Gandhi was released after over four hours of detention in the guest house of a cement company. Farmers in Mandsaur have been protesting since June 1 demanding loan waiver and better crop prices. Five farmers were killed in police firing on Tuesday as the agitation turned violent.
The government has brought in Manoj Kumar Singh from Neemuch as the new SP of Mandsaur. The collector of Shivpuri, O P Srivastava, who took charge of the district, said he faced a challenging situation. Divisional Commissioner M B Ojha told reporters, “For the last two to three days, farmers were stopping vehicles and setting them on fire.” Police said seven cases were lodged and 62 people detained in connection with the violence. Burnt vehicles were removed from the Mhow-Neemuch highway on Thursday, and traffic had resumed.
They said investigations have found that “stone throwers and some anti-social elements” had also joined the protest. Violence had also hit Dewas, Neemuch, Ujjain districts and some other parts of western MP. While two companies of the RAF, each comprising 100 personnel, moved into Pipliamandi in Mandsaur, where the five farmers were killed, another two were posted in Garoth. Two RAF companies have also been deployed along the highway. Besides the RAF, contingents of the CRPF have been deployed.
MP Home Minister Bhupendra Singh told reporters that the five farmers had been killed in police firing, a remark that assumes significance as the authorities had earlier claimed the police did not fire during the protests at Pipliamandi. Outgoing Superintendent of Police Tripathi earlier told reporters some people had been detained for heckling the previous Mandsaur Collector S K Singh in the Berheda Pant area on Wednesday. He said Pipliamandi Town Inspector Anil Singh Thakur, who had allegedly fired at the farmers causing casualties, had been removed from field duty and sent to the Mandsaur police lines.
Just before he was detained by the police, the Congress vice president accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of waiving loans of the country’s rich while ignoring farmers’ debts. “He (Modi) can’t give the right rates for farmers’ agriculture produce, can’t give them bonus, can’t give them compensation… He can only give them bullets,” Gandhi said. The Congress had on Wednesday described as “cold-blooded murder” the killing of the five farmers and questioned the prime minister’s silence on it.
The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Madhya Pradesh had sought to cool tempers by announcing certain measures, including a settlement scheme for cultivators who had defaulted on repayment of loans. The scheme will cover around 6 lakh farmers with accumulated dues of Rs 6,000 crore, according to the state government.