By Sandeep Sahu
The lengths – and depths – to which the state government went to foil the farmers’ rally proposed to be held in Bhubaneswar today by the Navnirman Krushak Sangha (NKS) make one wonder if it was really worth the trouble. The heavens would not have fallen if the farmers had been allowed to hold their rally, scheduled to begin at the Hi-Tech Square on the outskirts of the city and culminate in front of the state Assembly. After all, it is rally season in the capital city and block grant teachers and Gana Sikshaks did hold their demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday respectively, didn’t they?
From Bolangir to Keonjhar and from Puri to Koraput, it seemed as if the state police had just one thing to do since yesterday: stopping farmers converging on the capital for today’s rally in their tracks. Thousands of farmers coming to the rally from all over the state were offloaded from trains at the Cuttack and Bhubaneswar railway stations. The commissionerate police actually got into the act even earlier – on Monday, to be precise – when it first detained and then arrested Akshaya Kumar, the convenor of the Sangha and Sheshdeb Nanda, his close associate. The commissioner’s explanation that the two were arrested on the basis of the warrants pending against them is laughable to say the least. If that was the case, one wonders what prevented the police from arresting them earlier.
Commissionerate police followed up the arrests with the arrest of Soumya Ranjan Patnaik, the chief advisor to the Sangha, and withdrawal of the permission for the rally that had already been given. Every vehicle entering the capital city was frisked since yesterday to ensure the farmers don’t enter the city. With an unprecedented 50 platoons of forces deployed to ‘maintain law and order,’ Bhubaneswar appeared to be a garrison city on Wednesday. Such arrangements were not seen even during BJP President Amit Shah’ rally earlier this month which was, by all accounts, a much bigger affair than the Sangha could have mobilised.
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It certainly appeared that the extraordinary police bandobast had more to do with the Sangha’s past record than any realistic assessment of the security threat. It was if the Sangha was being punished for the ‘audacity’ of a few of its members, who had dared to block the Chief Minister’s cavalcade while he was on his way to the secretariat on December 24, 2013, forcing him to take a detour and enter his workplace through the back door.
If the police, clearly acting as per the orders of its political masters, made a hash of security arrangements, the ruling party compounded the folly by shamelessly defending the police action. While Agriculture Minister Pradeep Maharathy came up with the astounding claim that he was ‘not aware’ of the demands of the Sangha, BJD chief whip Ananta Das made no effort to conceal his utter contempt for the organisation. Unable to counter the spirited attack by the Opposition in the House, the treasury benches could do no more than pounce on the term ‘Alsatian dog’ used by Leader of Opposition Naransingha Mishra to describe the police.
The unprecedented crackdown on farmers is symptomatic of the gross indifference and worse towards the community by the industry-obsessed Naveen Patnaik government. A separate budget for Agriculture and four Krishi Karman awards in the last five years (a case of coming third in a three-horse race) notwithstanding, the apathy of the government has been in ample evidence in the past. The nonchalance with which it brushed aside the suicide by over a hundred farmers last year – attributing them to everything from ‘family quarrel’ to ‘alcoholism’ – and its failure to pay the bonus of Rs 100 per quintal to the drought affected farmers announced by the Chief Minister at the Bargarh last year till date are entirely in sync with its utter apathy for farmers, who even now constitute nearly 60% of the state’s population.
It remains to be seen if the BJD will have to pay electorally in the panchayat polls for its indifference as Sangha leaders have said it would. If the farmers of the state make good their threat, they would be doing themselves a great service because it is the only language that the ruling party understands.