BHOPAL: The Centre has rushed 1,100 anti-riot police personnel to Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur to help restore peace in the district where five persons were killed in violence during a protest by farmers demanding debt relief and better crop prices.
The Home Ministry has also sought a detailed report over yesterday's violence and steps taken by the Madhya Pradesh government to restore normalcy in the violence-hit area.
Around 600 personnel of the Rapid Action Force, a specialised anti-riots force, have already reached Mandsaur to assist the local administration, a Home Ministry official said.
Altogether 500 more RAF personnel are being sent to Mandsaur by the Home Ministry on the request of the state government.
Earlier in the day, there were reports of arson and rioting in a few places although police officer spoke of peace returning.
Reports said villagers returning from the funeral of one of the victims reportedly assaulted collector Swatantra Kumar Singh and spoke sharply to superintendent of police O P Tripathi. They had to beat a hasty retreat.
Farmers set fire to three trucks and burnt a warehouse in curfew-bound Bahi Chaupati and Pipliya Mandi areas. Unconfirmed reports said mobs pelted stones and attempted arson in Suvasra town and in the Chandukhedi area of Ujjain.
Additional director-general of police of Ujjain V Madhu Kumar said these were only sporadic incidents.
However, reports said farmer groups and Congress supporters took to the streets at other places in the state to make the MP bandh called by farmer unions successful. There were reports of roadblocks and protests from Gwalior, Sehore, Harda, Indore, Khandwa, Bhopal, Jhabua and Neemuch districts.
Angry farmers reportedly attacked policemen in Ujjain and Congress workers stopped trains in Dewas district.
In Indore, the agitating farmer union Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh (RKMS) demanded the dismissal of Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s government and imposition of president’s rule.
The Congress MP for Chhindwara, Kamal Nath urged chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to quit.
In Bhopal, home minister Bhupendra Singh chaired an emergency meeting with senior police officers, including director-general of police Rishi Shukla.
Shivraj Singh Chouhan too convened his council of ministers, and talk was that some major announcements would be made to placate farmers.
On Wednesday morning, Mandsaur collector Swatantra Kumar and superintendent of police O P Tripathi decided to turn up at Barkheda Pant village located on NH 79 to console the family of one of the five men killed in Tuesday afternoon’s police firing.
Even as they were speaking to the bereaved family, some of the mourners started blaming the collector for the firing and ordered Tripathi to remove his cap. The villagers demanded that inspector Anil Singh Thakur, who allegedly ordered the firing on the agitators, be dismissed, arrested and booked for murder.
The officials tried to speak assuringly but the mood was ugly and someone from the crowd assaulted collector Swatantra Kumar. Some villagers extricated the latter from the mob and he fled the spot.
Swatantra Kumar later denied being assaulted. “Some anti-social elements vitiated the atmosphere, so we had no option but to make a hasty retreat,” he said.
In view of the seriousness of the situation, the local administration set a Rapid Action Force (RAF) posse to the area but it too had a tough time controlling the farmers, as hundreds of them had by now assembled on the national highway.
Wise from the collector’s experience, the administration persuaded Madhya Pradesh BJP president Nandkumar Singh Chouhan and ministers Rampal Singh and Gauri Shankar Bisen not to entertain any notion of attending the slain farmers’ funerals. They were stopped in the Dodar area on the Ratlam-Mandsaur border.
Madhya Pradesh Congress president Arun Yadav, leader of the opposition Ajay Singh, MLA Jeetu Patwari and other party leaders were also stopped on the border.
Earlier in the day, former Mandsaur MP Meenakshi Natrajan of the Congress was not allowed to go into the town.
Key sources in the Congress in Delhi told New Indian Express that Rahul Gandhi was likely to travel to Mandsaur on Thursday.
The Rashtriya Kisan Majdoor Sangh, which called a statewide bandh on Wednesday, held a press conference in Indore, where it alleged that not five but eight farmers had died in the police firing.
The union’s president Shiv Narayan Sharma ‘Kakkaji’ alleged that policemen deliberately set fire to vehicles to serve as a ruse to open fire on farmers, killing not five but eight of them.
He also announced that the farmers’ stir, originally slated to go on for 10 days up to June 10, will now continue beyond that date. “I’ll go to Delhi to meet the representatives of 68 farmer bodies. It will no longer be just a statewide protest, but will be turned into a national movement by farmers. After June 10 we’ll start a Jail Bharo Andolan,” said Sharma.
An RKMS leader Trilok Chand said the Patidar community would teach a lesson to the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh.
Importantly, there was news that Hardik Patel, the Patidar leader from Gujarat, was likely to turn up in Mandsaur soon.
(With inputs from PTI)