The Telegraph
Saturday , June 10 , 2017

Chouhan to fast & hold talks with farmers

A policeman confronts a farmer during the protest on the Indore-Bhopal highway on Friday. (PTI)

Bhopal, June 9: Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan today invited the leaders of the agitating farmers for talks tomorrow, while arson attacks continued at many places in Madhya Pradesh and another death was reported from protest hub Mandsaur.

Ghanashyam Dhakad, a 26-year-old farmer, was said to be on his way to a temple last night when some policemen allegedly thrashed him with sticks. He was declared dead this morning at a private hospital in Indore, more than 200km away.

Mandsaur superintendent of police Manoj Kumar Singh and collector O.P. Srivastava said Dhakad's death was being investigated. Police firing had killed five farmers in the district on Tuesday.

Chouhan said he would observe a fast in Bhopal tomorrow as penance for the violence.

"People can come and discuss everything with me. I shall be available until we reach a conclusion," he told a news conference in Bhopal this evening.

Farmer leader Shiv Kumar Sharma of the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh - "Kakkaji" to his supporters - cautiously welcomed the talks offer.

Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Bhopal on Friday. (PTI)

"We have been watching this kind of drama for the past 11 years (Chouhan became chief minister in late 2005)," Sharma said, alluding to past farmer protests and what he claims were empty government assurances that followed.

Sharma said: "But if Chouhan can solve the problem, we'll appreciate it. We welcome the move."

The Centre today asked the states adjoining Madhya Pradesh to guard against the protest spreading. Several farmer bodies in Rajasthan and Punjab have threatened agitations if their demands are not met.

Kakkaji, who was once close to the Sangh-BJP, alleged that the arson that had followed Tuesday's police firing had been orchestrated by the cops themselves to tarnish the farmers. "The police and their aides set fire to vehicles," he said.

Chouhan, however, continues to blame "anti-social elements" for the violence and has threatened "strict action against those threatening peace".

Several videos surfaced today purporting to show state Congress leaders instigating mobs to attack or burn police stations.

One of the videos claims to show Congress MLA Shakuntala Khatik in Shivpuri, 400km from Mandsaur, trying to burn Chouhan's effigy and, when the police stop her, telling a mob: " Thane mein aag laga do (Torch the police station)."

Another video appears to feature heated exchanges between Jeetu Patwari, Congress MLA from Indore, and subdivisional magistrate Sandeep Soni, who is heard reminding the lawmaker that he had promised a peaceful protest.

In reply, Patwari accuses the police of getting violent with "peaceful protesters".

A third video purports to show D.P. Dhakad, a Congress politician from Ratlam, asking a mob to burn government vehicles on the Industrial Training Institute's premises.

Ratlam SP Amit Singh vouched for the authenticity of the video and said a case had been registered against Dhakad.

Several buses, trucks and cars were burnt on the Bhopal-Indore highway. At Phanda on the state capital's outskirts, the police fired tear gas and caned a mob of arsonists.

Farmers had blocked the highway near a toll plaza at 10am. When the police tried to drag the squatters away, the protesters went on the rampage.

Reinforcements were sent in and, by noon, over 100 people including a district Congress head, Avnish Bhargav, had been arrested.

Large-scale violence was reported also from Shujalpur and Shajapur, where 125 protesters have been taken into custody.

The local media had this morning carried photographs of Monica Shukla, Shajapur superintendent of police, throwing stones at a mob yesterday.

Shukla, who was part of Uma Bharati's security when the sadhvi was chief minister in 2003-04, said she had acted in "self-defence".

Three Aam Aadmi Party politicians - Bhagwant Mann, Ashutosh and Sanjay Singh - were denied entry into Mandsaur district, as Rahul Gandhi had been yesterday.

Collector Srivastava said no political leader from outside Mandsaur were allowed to enter the district even between 10am and 6pm, when curfew was relaxed today.

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