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Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot arrested in Neemuch while trying to enter Mandsaur, say reports

Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister Bhupendra Singh said police firing was responsible for the killing of five farmers during the protest.

Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and several other leaders were arrested in Neemuch under Section 151 on Thursday while trying to enter the restive region of Mandsaur, ANI reported. Gandhi had set out to meet protestors in Mandsaur despite officials denying permission for anyone to visit the troubled area. Those who knowingly join or continue in the assembly of more than five people after they have been ordered to disperse can be arrested under Section 151 of the Indian Penal Code.

The Congress vice-president had attempted to enter Mandsaur on a two-wheeler before trying to breakthrough a police barricade on foot. He had set out in a convoy accompanied by Janata Dal (United) party leader Sharad Yadav, Congress leaders Kamal Nath, Digvijaya Singh, Jyotiraditya Scindia and Mohan Prakash earlier on Thursday.

The local administration declared Vikram Cement factory’s guest house a jail and placed Gandhi, Yadav, Kamal Nath, Sachin Pilot, Girija Vyas under arrest for breaching peace and the prohibitory orders, Hindustan Times reported.

On Twitter, his office account posted a series of comments made by him. “They did not give any reason, just said they are arresting me,” Gandhi said. “The same was done in Uttar Pradesh also.” Taking a jibe at the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Union government, Gandhi said, “Modi cannot grant farmers a loan waiver or fair rates. All they get are bullets.”

“What law of the land says that it is illegal to stand in solidarity with farmers who were killed simply for demanding what is their right?” the Congress vice-president said.

Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister Bhupendra Singh on Thursday said an investigation has confirmed that police firing was responsible for the killing of five farmers during the ongoing protest in Mandsaur, ANI reported. “Initially, the details provided to me were that police firing did not cause it,” Singh told ANI. “I later amended my statement after receiving the correct information.” Police officials had earlier denied allegations that their personnel were responsible for the deaths.

Singh confirmed Gandhi’s detainment. “What was the emergency to go there now?” the home minister asked. “He only wants to do politics.”

Meanwhile, acts of violence including vandalism at a toll plaza were reported in several parts of the state. The police believe the mob took between Rs 8 lakh and Rs 10 lakh from the booth. At least 62 people were detained for their role in the violence, Superintendent of Police OP Tripathi said. “More people are being identified based on videos and pictures,” Tripathi said.

Officials said the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan government has issued transfer orders for District Collector Swatantra Kumar Singh and Superintendent of Police OP Tripathi on Thursday, PTI reported. The two will be replaced by OP Shrivastava and Manoj Kumar Singh respectively.

Police officials said four companies of the Rapid Action Force, comprising around 100 personnel each, have moved into Pipliamandi in Mandsaur, PTI reported. Additional Director General of Police V Madhu Kumar and other senior police officers have reached Nayagaon in an effort to stop the leaders, Hindustan Times reported. Officials imposed Section 144 in Neemuch.

The Congress has questioned Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s silence on the matter. “Despite much ‘hoopla’ about starting ‘Kisan DD Channel’, Mr Prime Minister – did this Kisan Channel show this Mandsaur incident?” Congress Spokesperson Abhishek Manu Singhvi told PTI.

Gandhi had said that he would meet the families of those who were killed during the ongoing farmers’ protest. Meanwhile, the Mandsaur superintendent of police was removed from his post and the district collector, Swatantra Kumar Singh, was transferred. Om Prakash Srivastava was appointed the new collector of Mandsaur, ANI reported.

The state government, however, has denied permission to anyone who wants to visit the troubled area. Accusing Gandhi of being “publicity hungry”, Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar said he should not go to Mandsaur until the situation stabilised, NDTV reported.

Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who had announced compensation for the families of victims, announced more sops on Thursday, reported The Indian Express. The government agreed for a loan settlement scheme for defaulters, and also announced a new commission to fix a formula to ensure fair prices for crops. He gave orders to immediately constitute a Rs 1,000-crore price stabilisation fund.

On Wednesday, the protesting farmers had blocked the highway with the bodies of those killed on Tuesday. The administration had to convince them to cremate the bodies. Farmers also torched a number of vehicles, local warehouse and a factory in and around Mandsaur. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had held a meeting to discuss the matter with top officials. The Centre has deployed over 1,000 paramilitary troops to stabilise the situation in the state.

More than 1,600 farmers ended their lives in Madhya Pradesh in 2016, NDTV quoted National Crime Records Bureau statistics.

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