BHOPAL: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who was detained by the Madhya Pradesh police on Thursday, while on his way to violence-hit Mandsaur, as he tried to defy barricades to gain entry has been released. "Rahul Gandhi, along with around 250 Congress leaders have been released," SP (Neemuch) Manoj Kumar Singh said.
He was also allowed by the administration to meet the families of farmers killed in Mandsaur. "After a long struggle, the administration has finally ageed to allow Rahul Gandhi to meet the families of those who were killed in police firing," former Congress MP Meenakshi Natarajan told reporters outside the guesthouse where scores of Congress leaders and workers were being kept.
“I condemn this incident. I only wanted to stand with farmers and want to assure them that the Congress Party is standing with them. We demanded from the Centre to take strict action against the accused. We will raise this topic in parliament as well,” Gandhi told media after meeting with the farmers.
Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the state government was open for a dialogue to iron out the differences and once again appealed them to maintain peace.
As crowds swelled outside the guesthouse of a cement company where the Congress members were taken, amongst those waiting outside the gates were the families of some of the five killed in the firing in Mandsaur on Tuesday.
The Congress Vice-President, while reacting to his detention, said, "Narendra Modi can waive loans of the country's rich but can't do so for farmers".
SDM Mandsaur N S Rajawat said that the ongoing curfew will be relaxed for women and children from 4 pm to 6 pm in Mandsaur.
Meanwhile, the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government earlier in the day transferred the collector and superintendent of police of Mandsaur district which witnessed the death of five farmers in police firing. Mandsaur Collector Swatantra Kumar Singh is transferred as deputy secretary Mantralaya. Singh was replaced with OP Shrivastava, official sources said.
The government also transferred Mandsaur SP, OP Tripathi and posted Manoj Kumar Singh in place of him, the sources added.
So far 62 persons have been detained in connection with the unrest, state police said.
They also added that Town Inspector of Pipliamandi Anil Singh Thakur removed from field duties in connection with the firing.
On the other hand, union minister Venkaiah Naidu, while dismissing demands for CM Shivraj Chouhan's resignation, said that Congress was using the entire incident as a "photo-op".
Farmers had yesterday resorted to violence and arson in western Madhya Pradesh despite prohibitory measures, posing a major challenge for Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and providing a rallying point for the opposition parties.
Collector Singh and superintendent Tripathi yesterday turned up at Barkheda Pant village, located on NH 79, to console one of the deceased's family.
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.
FIR has been lodged and some persons were detained in connection with the heckling of Kumar.
In view of the volatile situation, the Centre had rushed 1,100 personnel of RAF to the violence-hit state where the farmers have been agitating for loan waiver and better crop prices.
The Chouhan government had sought to cool the tempers by announcing certain measures, including a loan settlement scheme for those cultivators who had defaulted on repayment of farm loan borrowed by them earlier.
The scheme will cover around six lakh farmers, with accumulated dues of Rs 6000 crore, according to the government.
Among the major incidents till yesterday, farmers had set fire to three trucks and burnt a warehouse in curfew-bound Bahi Chaupati and Pipliya Mandi areas.
Unconfirmed reports said that mobs pelted stones and attempted arson in Suvasra and Chandukhedi areas of Ujjain.
However, Ujjain Additional director-general of police V Madhu Kumar said these were only sporadic incidents.
As per other reports, farmer groups and Congress supporters took to the streets yesterday to make the farmer unions' bandh successful.
There were reports of roadblocks and protests from Gwalior, Sehore, Harda, Indore, Khandwa, Bhopal, Jhabua and Neemuch districts. Policemen in Ujjain were attacked, while Congress activists 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 the the imposition of president’s rule.
The Congress MP for Chhindwara, Kamal Nath too urged 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 the other hand, the Rashtriya Kisan Majdoor Sangh, which called a statewide bandh yesterday, 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.
Another RKMS leader Trilok Chand said the Patidar community would teach a lesson to the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh.
Importantly, there was even the news that Hardik Patel, the Patidar leader from Gujarat, was likely to turn up in Mandsaur soon.
(With Inputs from PTI and ENS)