BHOPAL: When Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan sat down to his indefinite upwaas (fast) on Saturday morning, there was hope among the party faithful that it would bring to an end the 10-day-long farmer agitation in the state. The farmer unions had originally planned it for 10 days anyway.
But at the end of the day, the unions decided to continue their stir until their demands -- loan waiver and a 50 per cent premium on their cost of production -- are met.
Chauhan said he was open to a discussion with all comers, and met 15 delegations of small farmer and 23 of big through the day, but a solution eluded him by nightfall. "I will not end my fast till peace is restored," he declared though.
On the plus side for him, there was no major violence in the state and curfew was lifted from three of the four police station precincts in Mandsaur district, the epicentre of the agitation.
In a signal of normalcy in western MP, district administrations said internet services, suspended since June 5, would be rebooted on Monday morning.
Clad in a kurta-pyjama and a Nehru jacket, with wife Sadhana by his side, Chauhan sat for his fast around 11 am at the BHEL Dusshera Maidan in the heart of Bhopal. Former chief minister Kailash Joshi put a 'tilak' on his forehead and BJP supporters raised encouraging slogans.
However, the atmospherics cut no ice with the union leading the strike, the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh. Its president Dev Narayan Patel said after the meeting, "We asked him to waive loans and pressed for minimum support price. Our meeting was cordial, but we will continue our agitation.”
Predictable barracking came from the Congress and Shiv Sena. The opposition party called the fast a nautanki, and the latter, an ally of the BJP, said Chauhan should instead have gone to Mandsaur to comfort farmers.
In a sign that the farmer problem has made the Congress a bit more competitive, the party’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Jyotiraditya Scindia announced he will sit on a 72-hour-long 'satyagraha' from June 14 in Bhopal to protest against the "anti-farmer policies" of the BJP government.
BOX: Traders remain on edge
Mandsaur: Notwithstanding the curfew relaxation in Mandsaur, traders in Piplia Mandi, where five farmers fell to police bullets on Tuesday, were apprehensive about opening their shops.
The town, one of the largest garlic trading centres, wore a deserted look as anxious residents refused to step out. "We have been threatened with dire consequences if we open," a trader said.
Locals alleged that mobs burnt shops and houses during June 5-7 even as police remained mute spectators.
BOX: Social media savvy
Social media was the reason why the Mandsaur farmers agitation spread rapidly and took everyone by surprise. Despite the lack of a central leadership, the farmers' movement spread rapidly through Mandsaur and nearby districts through the canny use of photos, videos and texts on social media platforms.
According to police officials in Mandsaur, the centre of the protests, around 80 per cent of the protesters fall in the 16-30 age group. They are tech savvy, own smartphones and have been using Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. "This is the first time in the history of the state that a movement like this was built through internet tools," said Kedar Sirohi, leader of the Aam Kisan Union, a farmer organisation.