Farmers' death anniversary: Uneasy calm in Mandsaur ahead of Rahul's rally

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.

“I will ,ake a quiet dash for the exit after the rally gets over. Who knows what might happen once the leaders leave the venue,” said Noor Mohammed, as he sipped his cup of tea at a stall in Pipliyamandi.

Pipliyamandi, near Mandsaur town, was the scene of pitched battles between the police and agitating farmers last year. Rahi Singh, another local, echoed Mohammed as he joined in the conversation: “Nobody here wants a repeat of last year’s violence.”

The rally venue is the sprawling government school ground in Pipliyamandi, barely a few kilometres from the town’s main thoroughfare that witnessed the violence last year.

Congress leader and Madhya Pradesh legislator Jitu Patwari, along with former Lok Sabha member Meenakshi Natarajan, are overseeing preparations for the rally.

Hoardings and banners showing Rahul wearing a headgear, typical of what farmers of the region wear, dot the roads and the venue. Posters of Congress leaders Jyotiraditya Scindia and Kamal Nath can also be seen on the streets.

Banners showcase not just UPA government’s farmer friendly initiatives, but also Rajiv Gandhi’s implementation of panchayati raj and Indira Gandhi’s bank nationalisation, have been put up.

Patwari, busy with issuing last minute instructions to party workers, ruled out violence. He said the rally is to pay respects to those who died last year. The Congress president will meet the kin of some of the victims. While some of the families have agreed to come to the rally, others have declined to do so. 

“The administration has been cooperative. Probably Shivraj Singh Chouhan has learnt from last year’s mistakes. There won’t be any violence this time around,” Patwari told Business Standard.

More ubiquitous than the security personnel and posters of Congress leaders are the piles of bags filled with unsold garlic crop kept outside the entrance of some houses 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 went almost 30 per cent in the same period. In Rajasthan, the price of garlic fell Rs 3 a kg in Ajmer in May and Rs 10 a kg in Alwar.

“I sold garlic recently at a loss. I had registered for the state’s Bhavantar scheme, but I am yet to receive the money for my loss. The story is similar for wheat. I sold my wheat two months back but I am still waiting for the special incentive of Rs 250 that the (state) government had promised over and above the MSP,” said Lakhichand Sinam, a resident of Soni village near Pipliyamandi. Sinam cultivates wheat, garlic and soybean.

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 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.