Belagavi: The Congress government faced a hard time on the opening day of the Legislature session in Belagavi on Tuesday with BJP leaders as well as farmers hitting the streets to demand better prices for sugar cane cultivators.
The BJP didn’t limit itself to raising farmers’ issues and reiterated its demand for sacking of four “tainted” ministers, swift action against illegal sand mining and restoration of law and order.
The agitators, who were in thousands, were led by the BJP’s national vice president B S Yeddyurappa and farmer leaders Kodihalli Chandrashekar and Kurubur Shanthakumar. The agitation began around noon at different places near the Suvarna Vidhana Soudha and winded up by 4 pm. But that was enough to hold Belagavi to ransom.
The leaders’ fiery speeches and bumper-to-bumper traffic choked National Highway 4 which passes by the Soudha. Police had said they would stop the agitators from blocking the road but didn’t have their way.
The protesters managed to sneak into the Soudha premises, leading to high drama outside the seat of power. Shanthakumar, who insisted on meeting Chief Minister Siddaramaiah, stormed into the Soudha premises in violation of the prohibitory orders. About a dozen farmers sat down at the Soudha gate and shouted slogans against the government, accusing it of “neglecting” their interests by not fixing remunerative prices for sugar cane, paddy, maize and onion crops.
Chaos on the road
A large group of protesters then moved towards the Soudha, creating chaos on the road. There was huge traffic on all roads leading to Belagavi city. Fearing law and order problems, police had deployed a large number of personnel at the Soudha and other protest sites.
With Home Minister’s adviser Kempaiah making rounds of the protest sites and personally inspecting the security arrangements, police personnel were found scrambling to restore order. Police personnel were drawn from across north Karnataka, including Kalaburagi and Ballari.
Metal detectors were placed especially at the farmers’ protest site to avert a repeat of last year’s incident when a farmer had committed suicide outside the Soudha.
Police did seize a bottle of antiseptics at the protest site.
A senior officer said the chemical could have been consumed by a farmer bent on taking the extreme step. At the venue of the BJP’s protest, at least two people are said to have fainted and were rushed to hospital. By evening, police took at least 1,000 farmers into preventive custody.
Going combative, Yeddyurappa accused the government of “playing with farmers’ lives”. The government must ensure sugar cane factories pay farmers the dues of about Rs 2,500 crore pending for the last one year. There is “Tughlaq government” in State, he claimed.
“It is not the Congress government but a faction led by Siddaramaiah which is enjoying the benefits of power and hence dissidence has surfaced in the government,” he said.