BHOPAL: “One hand on the tractor wheel and the other on the phone ready to tweet” — that was the informal instruction spread amongst protesters here, many of them youngsters who defy the stereotypical image of the traditional Indian farmer.
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. So much so, that authorities have suspended internet services in the area.
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. Theey are tech savvy, own smartphones and have been using Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp to spread information andmobilise people for the protests.
“This is the first time in the history of the state that a movement like this was built through these internet tools. We had appealed to farmers to reach out to the masses using such platforms,” said Kedar Sirohi, leader of the Aam Kisan Union, a farmer organisation. “Our message to farmers was to keep one hand on the tractor steering wheel and the other on the phone to send tweets,” he said.
The lack of a central leadership left the government in a fix as they did not know exactly who to negotiate with. The June 4 meeting between Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and another farmer body, the Kisan Sena, was a case in point.
After Chouhan announced sops for farmers, the two organisations declared that they would withdraw the stir. However, the protests by the farmers, who are demanding a loan waiver and satisfactory prices for their produce, raged on.
The movement turned violent two days later when five persons died in police firing on June 6 in Mandsaur. One more farmer died on June 8 with villagers alleging that he was beaten up by police.
The Mandsaur-Neemuch region, about 300 km from Bhopal, became the nerve centre of the gathering storm of farmer distress. Later, protests spread to some other parts of the state. The farmers had first declared that the protests would last from June 1 to June 10. “But after the deaths, we are not going to set any end date for it,” Sirohi said.