Alleged police firing on Tuesday, June 6, at a group of farmers that was becoming unruly in its protests in the Mandsaur town of Madhya Pradesh resulted in the death of five farmers, while several others were injured. Curfew has since been imposed in Mandsaur.
Both Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring Maharashtra have been in turmoil over the past week or so in light of farmer protests in both states.
Meanwhile, internet connectivity has been snapped at Mandsaur, Ratlam and Ujjain in the state, possibly in an effort to keep protesters from planning agitations over the internet or trying to spread inflammatory content.
MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan blamed the Congress for the violence. He told news agency ANI: "The state government is sensitive [to the farmers' demands] and stands with them, but the Congress — through conspiracy — tried to fuel violence. Many Cong leaders did so."
He added: "The kin of the deceased will get a compensation of Rs 5 lakh. Those seriously injured will get Rs 1 lakh."
MP Home Minister Bhupendra Singh had earlier refuted the claims that a police firing had taken place, thereby taking the blame off the cops for the death of the farmers. He also denied reports that internet connectivity had been suspended anywhere. Singh also said that he had ordered an inquiry into the firing.
Local reports say the police firing that led to the death of the two farmers was prompted by the tillers' agitation becoming violent. Some protesting farmers had even vandalised the gate at a railway criossing in the town, said a vernacular report.
Meanwhile, the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh has called for a statewide bandh — or shutdown — in Madhya Pradesh, to be observed on Wednesday, June 7.
Big opportunity for Opposition?
The incident may be seen by the Opposition parties not only in Madhya Pradesh but also at the national level as a big opportunity to corner the BJP, which is in power not only at the Centre but also in MP.
The BJP's political rivals will look to portray it as anti-poor and anti-farmer — two tags that have the potential to end electoral ambitions of even the biggest of political outfits.
And that was exactly what seemed to be happening when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to say: "This government is at war with the farmers of our country." He went on to ask: "Are bullets in the fate of our farmers who ask for their rights in the New India of the BJP?"