A farmer from Rajasthan hanged himself from a tree in front of thousands of protesters at an Aam Aadmi Party rally against a controversial land bill in Delhi on Wednesday, possibly hobbling the government’s efforts to pass the draft law dubbed anti-poor by the Opposition.
The dhoti and turban-clad man, identified as Gajendra Singh Kalyanwat, climbed atop the tree with a broom in his hand and hanged himself with a gamcha (towel), as AAP leader Kumar Vishwas spoke on a stage metres away.
Volunteers said the man was unconscious and barely breathing when three workers brought him down in Jantar Mantar, a stone’s throw from Parliament, putting the focus on a deepening agrarian crisis that has claimed the lives of dozens of farmers and pushed the government on the backfoot.
A purported suicide note recovered from the spot said he was the son of a farmer from Dausa, whose crop was destroyed by unseasonal rain and hailstorm. The note said he had three children and was thrown out of the house by his father, ending with the words, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan”.
Watch: Farmer commits suicide at AAP's anti-land bill rally
He was rushed to the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital by AAP workers but doctors there declared him dead on arrival around 2pm. “He had no pulse, there was no blood pressure and his ECG was a straight line when we attended him in our emergency,” said Dr Sunil Saxena.
The sensational incident is likely to bolster the Opposition’s campaign against the land bill that it says will benefit industrialists and forcibly take away land from millions of farmers. The dramatic suicide also gives the Congress a handle to attack the government over the land bill and takes focus away from a raging two-month rebellion in the AAP that threatened to split the party.
The death soon gave way to a political blame game as several leaders criticised the AAP for not acting quickly enough to stop the death. "Why didn't AAP leaders stop the farmer from committing suicide? This is a conspiracy. You knew what was happening but still decided to do your politics," said BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he was deeply shattered and disappointed by the incident. “At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India,” he tweeted. Union home minister Rajnath Singh also said he was deeply pained to hear about the farmer’s suicide and ordered a probe.
At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers of India.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 22, 2015
Gajendra’s death has saddened the Nation. We are all deeply shattered & disappointed. Condolences to his family.— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) April 22, 2015
The AAP, however, blamed the police for being mute spectators with party MLA Somnath Bharti tweeting the incident was a conspiracy to sabotage the two-year-old outfit. He later removed the tweet.
"We kept asking the police to bring him down. Police may not be in our control but at least there should be a semblance of humanity among them," said Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, ordering an inquiry. Police also filed an FIR against unknown persons for abetment to suicide, causing death by negligence and obstructing a public servant.
The party was also attacked for not stopping the rally when workers saw the 43-year-old farmer had died but AAP leader Sanjay Singh said it would have become impossible to control the crowd if the programme had been paused. “A stampede could have broken out,” Singh added.
Two days after launching a blistering attack on the government for favouring industrialists, party vice-president Rahul Gandhi assured farmers the Congress was with them. “All this has happened because of the ordinance that has been brought by the BJP government,” the 44-year-old said.
Our cartoonist Sajith Kumar's take on the farmer suicide: