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Farmers' death anniversary: BJP, Congress prepare for battle in Mandsaur

In Mandsaur and Pipliyamandi towns, nearly 225 km from Indore, elaborate security arrangements have been put in place to prevent a rerun of last year

E A S Sarma  |  Mandsaur/New Delhi 

E A S Sarma

Madhya Pradesh Congress President Kamal Nath and Madhya Pradesh Campaign Committee Chairman Jyotiraditya Scindia during a rally in Bhopal on Tuesday. Photo: PTI An uneasy calm prevailed in Mandsaur town on Tuesday on the eve of Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s public rally to mark the first anniversary of the police firing that killed five farmers here last year. While plummeting onion prices triggered the protests in June 2017, the discontent of farmers this year has been due to the sharp drop in garlic rates – a key intercrop during the lean harvest season. In Mandsaur and Pipliyamandi towns, nearly 225 km from Indore, elaborate security arrangements have been put in place to prevent a rerun of last year. Hoardings and banners showing Rahul wearing a headgear, typical of what farmers of the region wear, dot the roads. Posters of Congress leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath can also be seen on the streets. More ubiquitous than the security personnel and posters of Congress leaders are the piles of jute bags filled with unsold garlic crop kept outside the entrance of nearly every house in Mandsaur district, which is part of the state’s Malwa region. In the wholesale markets of Indore and Mandsaur, the price of garlic dropped almost 59 per cent in March to May this year compared to the same period in 2017. The price of tomatoes dropped almost 30 per cent in the same period. In Rajasthan, the price of garlic dropped by Rs 3 a kg in Ajmer in May and Rs 10 a kg in Alwar. Both Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are currently BJP-ruled states. The two states, along with Chhattisgarh and Mizoram, go to the polls in November-December. The Congress is looking at the public rally to mark the launch of its election campaign in Madhya Pradesh, where it has been out of power since 2003.

The party expects nearly 100,000 people to turn up for the event. Its spokesperson Mohan Prakash on Tuesday said that the nervous Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in Bhopal is treating local farmers like criminals by getting 11,000 of them to sign bonds that they will not attend the rally. He said 7,000 farmers still had cases against them. Lest Wednesday’s Congress rally leads to shaping of a narrative that might hurt its electoral prospects in Rajasthan as well as Madhya Pradesh and subsequent Lok Sabha polls, the Narendra Modi government at the Centre also attempted to reach out to farmers. Agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said in New Delhi that the Centre has extended procurement period for gram in Maharashtra till June 13 and garlic in Rajasthan till June 20. The two crops, grown in the 2017-18 rabi (winter) season, are being procured under the price support scheme (PSS) as market prices have fallen below the support price level. The agriculture minister also released a list of decisions taken by the Modi government in the last four years to improve farm incomes, and accused the previous UPA2 government of ignoring farmers. BJP farm cell chief and Lok Sabha member Virendra Singh ‘Mast’ alleged that the Congress and other parties were politicising an issue that wasn’t of Modi government’s making. He said dialogue and not agitation was the solution, and said those throwing milk and vegetables on roads as a mark of protest cannot be farmers. Across India, Mandsaur is better known as the hometown of Ravana’s wife Mandodari in the Hindu epic Ramayana. But in the last 12-months, it has become a symbol of agrarian distress and farm protests. The killing of farmers on June 6, 2017 sparked protests in several states, including the ‘long march’ of 30,000 farmers in March from Nashik to Mumbai, a distance of 200 km. Fresh from a win in the Kairana Lok Sabha by-polls, Rashtriya Lok Dal leader Jayant Chaudhary underlined the importance of the Mandsaur rally. He said the BJP wants to make the 2019 polls a battle of personalities, but the opposition wants to project issues like farm distress, rather than a person to take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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First Published: Wed, June 06 2018. 07:03 IST
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