A day after the Madhya Pradesh Home minister stated in Assembly that police firing on protesting farmers in Mandsaur district was in “self-defence”, in effect toeing the previous BJP government’s line and facing flak all round, the Congress government on Tuesday said it will order another high-level inquiry to punish the guilty if it is not satisfied with findings of the judicial probe ordered by the previous government.
Five protesters had died in police firing, and another in police custody, in June 2017 when farmers took to the streets demanding fair price for their produce.
The J K Jain Commission, set up by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, had submitted its report to the previous government. It was never tabled in the Assembly.
Then in Opposition, the Congress had accused the BJP government of cover-up when the media reported parts of the leaked report, which had blamed protesters for attacking the police, forcing them to open fire in self-defence, and to stop vandalism of public and private property.
In a written reply submitted to the Assembly on Monday, the first day of the state Budget session, Home Minister Bala Bachchan stated the same —- that proper procedure was followed before the police fired on protesters “in self-defence as also to prevent damage to government and private property”.
The reply left the Congress government red-faced, as party chief Rahul Gandhi had announced in Mandsaur, on the first anniversary of the firing incident on June 6, 2018, that those found guilty will be punished within days of the Congress forming the government in MP.
Opposition BJP said the government’s reply means it had taken farmers for a ride before the elections and misled them with an eye on votes. The party asked the Congress to come clean on its stand.
In a hurriedly-called press conference on Tuesday, Bachchan sought to clarify that there has been no clean given to any one. Referring to questions raised in the House, he maintained that all three replies stated that the judicial probe report was being studied.
In the House on Monday, Bachchan was replying to questions raised by a Congress MLA, who had sought to know details such as how many rounds each police person had fired and who had given permission to open fire, why a case had not been registered against police personnel responsible for firing, and whether the government agreed with the Jain Commission report.
The minister’s reply to the first two questions stated the probe report is being studied.
Taking strong objection to reply to the third question, senior Congress leader and former Madhya Pradesh CM Digvijaya Singh on Tuesday said it amounts to giving a clean chit to the Chouhan government.
Bachchan claimed the third reply was based on documents prepared by the previous government, and that the report received from the General Administration Department had been sent to the police headquarters for study.
Relatives of those killed in police firing, and other farmers in and around Mandsaur, on Tuesday slammed the Congress government for changing its stand on the issue. “They are speaking the BJP’s language now. Earlier, Rahul Gandhi had promised that an FIR would be filed against police officials (responsible),” Dinesh Patidar, whose teenage son Abhishek died in the firing, told The Indian Express.
A relative of another victim said, “They are now making things up. They should give an account of what they had said before.”
The previous Chouhan government had announced compensation of Rs 1 crore and a government job to a family member of each victim.