Police again foiled a protest in Raipur that had been planned by the Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh as part of its three-day Sankalp Rally on farmers’ issues that ended on Thursday.
After the arrest of several leaders, activists and politicians — under the umbrella body Kisan Mazdoor Mahasangh — over the last two days, those that remained outside jail had planned to meet, as scheduled, at 1 pm in the Chhattisgarh capital. The protest was to be not just about farmers’ issues but also the government clampdown — Section 144 in at least 10 districts and continuous arrests.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Wednesday night, Sanket Thakur, an activist, AAP leader and member of the Mahasangh, said, “We will meet at Budha Talab at 1 pm and then go to the CM’s residence. But you know how this government is acting. They will probably arrest us by then.”
At 1 pm on Thursday, Budha Talab was deserted, save for policemen. Thakur was already in jail, picked up in the morning under Section 151 of CrPC along with others who had set out for the spot.
While some journalists reported from the spot about the “unprecedented crackdown”, policemen tracked every passing car. As one vehicle drove by, a shot went up in the air.
“Uss gaadi mein Alok Shukla hai,” shouted a man who identified himself as a member of the local intelligence unit, referring to the convenor of Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan, which is also involved in the Sankalp Rally. The police readied a vehicle to chase him. Then a voice crackled through the walkie talkie — the car belonged to Raipur City Police, Shukla had already been arrested 2 km away.
The Mahasangh, a conglomeration of farmers’ leaders, had last month announced the farmer protest that would see a rally from Rajnandgaon district on September 19 and end in a gherao of the CM’s residence Thursday.
Their demands included fulfillment of a BJP election manifesto promise of Rs 300 per quintal of paddy bonus every year, minimum support price, free electricity and loan waiver for continuous years of drought. The organisers claimed they had spoken to the administration and a route had been agreed upon. But the government seemed to swing into action on September 18.
Sudesh Tikam, a farmer leader from Rajnandgaon, who had arranged a large protest on August 28, was arrested with eight associates. Over the next two days, Section 144 was clamped on at least 10 districts and there were more arrests. Only in Kanker district, under the banner of Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, did more than a thousand farmers successfully assemble in protest on Wednesday.
Agriculture Minister Brijmohan Agrawal told The Indian Express, “The BJP has always stood with farmers of the state. Even for this year’s drought, measures were announced. Relief measures take time, so there can be some impatience. These protests are politically motivated.”
However, sources in the BJP government admitted that the “message being given is the wrong one”. A senior leader said, “What we wanted to prevent were these messages of thousands of farmers protesting and the chance of things going wrong, like in Sikar or Mandsaur. That has been prevented, but the crackdown might leave a longstanding problem for us.”
The Vidhan Sabha will meet for a special session on Friday to approve the budget for paddy bonus for 2015-16. The Congress has announced a gherao, and the BJP has condemned the plan.
The police said they arrested nine “leaders” of various parties and organisations on Thursday and almost 100 associates of these leaders. Those who were detained spoke about police excess. AAP’s Durga Jha said she was arrested at an ATM. Others spoke of former MLA Janak Lal Thakur being arrested from his home in Dondi Lohara at 2.30 am, and the police preventing farmers from leaving their villages.
As he entered jail, Dwarika Sahu said, “We will go to every village and tell them what the BJP has done, and this will grow into a massive movement. We will not let a single BJP member enter our villages anymore.”