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3:06 pm - Friday April 20, 2018

2017: A tough year gone for BJP, more challenges ahead

Agencies, Bhopal

A violent peasants’ agitation that led to the killing of six agriculturists in police firing, a horrendous gang-rape followed by a spate of similar horrors and a minister being disqualified from contesting by the Election Commission of India (ECI) while another encountering troubles in a murder case.

Add to it two by-election defeats, rising offences against women and a worsening farm crisis – all of which provided enough ammunition to the principal-opposition Congress seeking revival of its fortunes ahead of election year, 2017 was a year marked by numerous troubles for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which completed 14 years in power with Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan completing his 12th year as the state’s head firmly in the saddle.

In order to counter the challenges caused by agrarian crisis and crime against women, the regime responded by launching the ‘Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana’ and brought a rape bill that envisages to hand death penalty to child rapists.

Nonetheless, farmers and the Opposition alleged that the prices of certain commodities such as soybean and urad plunged in wake of the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana’s launch.

Notwithstanding the challenges and eyeing a resounding fourth successive victory in 2018 assembly elections, the BJP opened an election war room with the slogan ‘Abki Baar –200 Paar’(This time –200 plus seats)’ in November.

With the elimination of Students’ Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) activists in an encounter near Bhopal on the previous year’s October 30-31 night, the BJP Government began 2017 on a high note – with the party executive meeting in Sagar in January praising the Chief Minister, the Home Minister and police for quick and appropriate action.

The party swept elections in three municipal bodies in the same month. While Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) Mohan Bhagwat visited the state twice – in February and October, Sadhvi Pragya Thakur was acquitted along with seven others by a Dewas court in the murder of RSS pracharak Sunil Joshi for the lack of evidence in February.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the heartland state for the closing ceremony of the Narmada Seva Yatra in May. In his speech, he said that the Centre has resolved to double farmers’ income by 2022 and praised Madhya Pradesh for drafting a scheme to achieve the goal.

Ironically, the state was hit by a violent farmers’ protest unknown in recent times in the very next month. Farmer in western Madhya Pradesh began protest on June 1 demanding loan waiver and higher minimum support price (MSP), among other demands.

Mr Chouhan approached only the RSS-backed Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, announced MSP price measures for onion and claimed that the agitation has ended. Nonetheless, other farmers’ associations decried the announcement and launched protests.

Violence spread across several towns with protesters looting and dumping vegetables, fruits and dairy products while being transported. On June 6, six peasants died in firing during a clash with police.

In order to restore “peace”, the Chief Minister sat on an indefinite fast on June 10 – which ended the next day after he met several farmers’ organisations and family members of a few deceased peasants. Later, Mr Chouhan announced a compensation of Rs 1 crore and a job to the next of kin of each dead.

The principal-opposition Congress tried to score political points during the agitation and dubbed Mr Chouhan’s fast as a sham while Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia sat on a 72-hour ‘satyagraha’ in the state capital. In the Assembly’s Monsoon Session, Panchayat and Rural Development Minister Gopal Bhargava blamed opium smugglers for violence during the agitation.

On the other hand, Mr Chouhan alleged that certain Congress leaders had a role in inciting peasants to take recourse to violence. He announced to enhance compensation to the kin of soldiers belonging to the state and dying in the line of duty to Rs 1 crore – a measure seen as a justification of the hefty compensation provided to the deceased peasants’ kin.

Nonetheless, in the first electoral test following the farmers’ stir in August, the BJP emerged victorious in 25 posts of presidents of urban bodies – out of total 43 – and claimed that it had lost no ground. On the other hand, the Congress’ tally went up to 15 and the party described the outcome as satisfactory.

In another setback to the ruling BJP in June, the ECI disqualified Parliamentary Affairs Minister Narottam Mishra from the state legislature’s membership and barred him from contesting polls for the next three years for concealing election expenditure vis-a-vis a series of paid news.

He was even disqualified from voting in presidential elections and failed to get interim relief from the Delhi High Court. Later, the Supreme Court granted a stay on the ECI decision and directed the Delhi High Court to hear the matter. Meanwhile, Dr Mishra continued to remain on the minister’s post although he did not attend subsequent assembly sessions.

He was assigned the responsibility by the party for the elections in the South Gujarat. More embarrassment for the ruling BJP followed in December, as its ‘Happiness’ minister Lal Singh Arya was on the run trying to evade arrest in a murder case after an arrest warrant was issued against him.

Arya was made an accused by a Bhind court in the murder of then Congress’ Gohad MLA Makhanlal Jatav – who was shot dead by unidentified persons on April 13, 2009, during the Lok Sabha elections. However, he is expected to get indirect relief following the High Court’s Bench staying the trial going on in Bhind.

Four days before the deadline to relocate Sardar Sarovar Dam oustees was scheduled to come to an end on July 31, Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) leader Medha Patkar launched a hunger strike at Chikhalda village in Dhar district seeking proper rehabilitation of project-affected families.

She was taken to a hospital in Indore by police after her health deteriorated on August 7. While she was discharged two days later, she was arrested when she tried to reach Chikhalda again and lodged in the Dhar jail where she broke her fast – 17 days later – on August 12.

Ms Patkar launched a ‘jal satyagraha’ in Barwani on September 15 – two days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi was scheduled to dedicate the Sardar Sarovar Dam in Gujarat on the occasion of his birthday.

However, the NBA leader and other agitators suspended it on September 17, hours after the Premier inaugurated the dam in Gujarat. In August, BJP President Amit Shah arrived on a three-day visit to the state capital during which he conducted a marathon of meetings with BJP workers.

Tuning the party’s state unit into election mode, he minced no words in making it clear to lawmakers that non-performance or non-adherence to discipline would invite stringent measures.

Senior Congress leader Digvijaya Singh embarked on his version of ‘Narmada Parikrama’ – which he termed as apolitical and spiritual. Nevertheless, political experts opined that the former chief minister could be hoping to garner support for the party and himself through the Parikrama.

Months after the violent peasants’ agitation rocked Madhya Pradesh, a group of farmers were allegedly stripped and beaten up inside Tikamgarh Rural Police Station in October. Later, the regime transferred one policeman and attached three others to police lines.

In a major relief to the Chief Minister, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) submitted a status report to the Supreme Court in November wherein the agency stated that there was “no grain of truth in the allegation’’ that a hard disk seized in the Madhya Pradesh Profesional Examination Board (MPPEB) scam had been tampered with to remove the term ‘CM’.

Besides, the CBI’s investigation brought several college directors within the purview of law during the year. President Ram Nath Kovind, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal and Bahujan Samaj Party Supremo Mayawati visited the Madhya Pradesh capital in November.

The President had arrived on his maiden visit to the state for taking part in the Kabir Prakatotsava. Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu made his first visit to the the City of Lakes in December. Injecting himself into the controversy surrounding Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film Padmavati, the Chief Minister announced that the movie would not be allowed to be released in the state as it has distorted history.

Later, he described Padmavati as ‘rashtramata’ and announced that a chapter on the queen would be included in the school syllabus from next year. In a shocking reminder to the 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape, a 19-year-old civil service aspirant was gang-raped by four rag-pickers near railway tracks in the Habibganj railway station’s proximity on October 31 night when she was returning home after attending a coaching class.

The woman had harrowing time lodging a first information report (FIR) as she made several rounds of various police stations but was turned away due to ‘jurisdiction’ issues.

Following outrage over police apathy, the dispensation transferred two senior police officials and suspended three town-inspectors and two sub-inspectors. Two doctors who prepared erroneous medical report and mentioned ‘consensual sex’ were also suspended.

The gang-rape was followed by numerous instances of sexual offences against women in the state prompting the government to present a bill that envisages handing out capital punishment to rape convicts involving minor girls of 12 years and below.

The Dand Vidhi (Madhya Pradesh Sanshodhan) Vidheyak – which was passed unanimously by the House – would now be sent to the Centre and would need the President’s assent to become a law.

Madhya Pradesh Congress spokesperson KK Mishra was sentenced to imprisonment for two years in a defamation case for levelling allegations – three years earlier – against the Chief Minister and his wife Sadhna Singh.

He was released on bail following the order. His counsel said that the order would be challenged before the High Court. Madhya Pradesh witnessed three by-elections during the year but the ruling BJP succeeded only in one by-election as it failed to unfurl the saffron flag in Congress bastions of Ater and Chitrakoot.

However, it managed to retain Bandhavgarh. As of now, the focus is on Kolaras and Mungaoli, where bypolls are likely sometime in near future. The electoral battle in Mr Scindia’s own backyard is a fight for prestige and stature for the Scindia family’s scion, who could be projected as the Congress’ face in the next assembly elections.

Posted in: Bhopal

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