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A gimmick, job-saving bid? Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s ‘peace fast’ raises questions

Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan ended his “peace fast” on Sunday evening 27 hours after he started it.

There was no talk of a loan waiver for protesting farmers but Chouhan, who faces election next year, announced that buying agricultural produce below the minimum support price would be treated as a crime. He also promised action against those who instigated violence.

The chief minister started the indefinite fast to “restore peace” after five farmers were killed in police firing on June 6, leading to violence in Mandasur and other districts of the state’s farm belt of Malwa. A farmer died on Friday of injuries suffered during a baton charge.

CMO Madhya Pradesh ✔ @CMMadhyaPradesh
The violence in #Mandsaur will be investigated thoroughly & people involved in it will be punished: CM @ChouhanShivraj #Shivraj4Peace
2:36 PM – 11 Jun 2017
47 47 Retweets 125 125 likes
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But why fast?

Chouhan is the government. Farmers are angry because the government has failed to ensure good prices for their produce and has failed to alleviate growing farm distress. Farmers died because police opened fire at them or beat them up and police report to the government.

Whose attention was Chouhan trying to draw is the question being asked by rivals as well as a section of the ruling BJP.

The opposition and farmer leaders say the fast was a gimmick, some party colleagues see it as a desperate bid by Chouhan to save his job.

“The fast was against the CM’s own hypocrisy (pakhand),” farmer leader Shivkumar Sharma said. He met farmers during the fast to know their problems, it proved their charge that his government was not even aware of their distress, Sharma said.

For days, the CM, his ministers and party colleagues said it was Congress-sponsored violence. If that was the case then Chouhan should have acted against the miscreants but why fast, a BJP leader said.

“The fast was meant to reassert the chief minister position within the party and save his chair given the ire of the central BJP leadership,” the leader said on condition of anonymity.

Chouhan and home minister Bhupendra Singh, who is in charge of police, were criticised for denying police had fired at protesting farmers. It took them hours to admit to police’s action.

If Chouhan was trying to reach out to people, why he, his ministers or officers have not visited the families of those killed, ask opposition and farmer leaders.

Leader of the Opposition in the assembly Ajay Singh dismissed the fast as a drama. “It was a film script and the drama finally came to an end on Sunday with the breaking of the fast,” the Congress leader said. “When he began the fast it was decided which day and at what time he would end the fast.”

The “fast” was the fourth in the last six years by Chouhan and on all the four occasions farmers, his core constituency, have been at the heart of them.

The previous three, however, were against the Centre, when rival Congress-led UPA was in power.

The first ended before it could even start. Chouhan had just arrived in the dais on February 14, 2011 at the Dussehra Maidan, the same spot where he was observing the “peace fast”, when he got a message from the governor. The chief minister was told he couldn’t resort to a protest against the Centre being a constitutional authority appointed by the governor.

The next time was June 15, 2012 and then two years later.

“What this fast was meant for if it was not for repentance?” former state director of agriculture GS Kaushal said. The CM might have felt he couldn’t control the violence, so he decided to fast.

“My advice to @ChouhanShivraj: spirit of fast requires introspection, repentance. If he’is (sic) genuine he should extend fast, give up CM posts,” Swaraj India president Yogendra Yadav tweeted after his arrest in Ratlam on Sunday.

Yogendra Yadav ✔ @_YogendraYadav
My advice to @ChouhanShivraj:spirit of fast requires introspection, repentance. If he’is genuine he should extend fast, give up CM posts
2:55 PM – 11 Jun 2017
136 136 Retweets 410 410 likes

Yadav, social activist Medha Patkar and others were arrested for trying to enter Mandsaur to meet the families of farmers killed in police firing. They were freed later.

A fast is not observed against a person or a government, state BJP spokesperson Rajneesh Agrawal said. It was an Indian tradition, practised to restore peace and order in society. Mahatma Gandhi had shown the world the effectiveness of fast, he said.

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