Shivraj begins fast for peace, farmers launch counter-protest

Bhopal: Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on Saturday began his indefinite fast “until peace is restored” in the state and asserting he would lay down his life for farmers but as he and Agriculture Minister Gauri Shankar Bisen ruled out any loan waiver, an irate group of farmers started a counter-protest opposite him.

Meanwhile, the state’s opposition Congress questioned the Chouhan government’s ability to rule the state and demanded that President’s Rule be imposed.

Chouhan, who began his fast at the BHEL’s Dussehra Maidan here, said: “We will help the farmers in any way we can, decisions will be taken and if need be, I will lay down my life for them.

“The state government has taken many important decisions in the past years. We have made provisions for the farmers to get loans at zero interest rates and even to deposit Rs 90,000 over a loan of Rs one lakh for fertilisers and seeds. We have always stood with the farmers during distressful times.”

Expressing grief over the escalating farmers’ agitation, the Chief Minister said that he is open to discussions with them and is sitting on the ground as he understands their pain.

While Chouhan, who has invited the protesters for dialogue, met various people through the day, a farmers delegation was dismayed when he turned down their demand of a loan waiver and began a protest opposite him.

“The Chief Minister refused to consider our demand for a loan waiver, and consequently I and others began a protest in front of him. This is a fast vs fast and it will continue till the time he accedes to our demand,” Aam Kisan Union’s Kedar Sirohi told IANS.

He said that representatives of seven organisations – the Aam Kisan Union, Bharatiya Kisan Union, the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, the Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Mahasangh, Kisan Seva Sangathan, Kisan Sena (Vidisha) and the Kisan Jagriti Manch – were participating in the protest and on Sunday, farmers from across the state would come to join them.

While Chouhan requested the farmers not to protest, they did not pay him any heed. Chouhan and other leaders subsequently went off the dais. Chouhan will spend the night in a room behind the dais and resume his position at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Bisen told reporters that the demand for loan waiver “holds no justification as we are taking back loans at a rate of 10 per cent less than the principal amount. When we did not impose any interests on loan, how can it be waived off”.

Farmers’ protests that started in the state on June 1, demanding better prices for their produce and debt relief, turned violent on June 6 when five farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur. The violence has spilled over to several other districts, including the Malwa-Nimad area and even reached the state capital. Angry farmers have been blocking roads, vandalising property and setting vehicles on fire.

Reaching Dussehra Maidan this morning, Chouhan addressed his Cabinet and other leaders and also held a discussion with them before beginning the agitation.

He will also run his government from the venue, an official said. Preparations began at BHEL Dussehra Maidan soon after Chouhan declared he will observe a fast. A temporary residence has been set up, with heavy deployment of forces at the venue.

The Opposition has slammed Chouhan’s decision to go on a fast.

“I have demanded from the Governor the imposition of President’s Rule in the state as the government has given up on the current situation,” Leader of Opposition in the Assembly Ajay Singh told reporters, adding it was time that Chouhan “stop this indefinite fast ‘nautanki’ (drama) and retire from politics”.

The person who is responsible for killing six farmers in the state is now appealing for peace, he added, (IANS)

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