UP Police manhandled me, tried to force me into their vehicle: Priyanka Gandhi

Congress’ Priyanka Gandhi Vadra told HT, “I tried to walk but they were pushing and shoving. Then they started beating my colleagues, punched one of them several times in the stomach and lifted him up and tried to stuff him into a jeep
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other party leaders reach to meet the victims of the violence that erupted during a farmers' protest and claimed eight lives a day earlier, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Monday. (PTI)
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and other party leaders reach to meet the victims of the violence that erupted during a farmers' protest and claimed eight lives a day earlier, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Monday. (PTI)
Updated on Oct 05, 2021 09:09 AM IST
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In police custody in Sitapur after being stopped from going to Lakhimpur Kheri, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra spoke to HT on the phone about the farm agitation and the incident in which eight people were killed. Edited excerpts:

Where are you speaking to us from?

I’m technically in custody. I arrived in Lucknow at night with the intention of going to Lakhimpur Kheri in the morning. I thought I would go to the Congress office, but as I was coming out of the house, there were two rows of police people who surrounded my car and said that you cannot go forward. After their altercation, I got out and asked why they were stopping me but no one seemed to have any answer. I started walking, and then somebody got a car and we drove, intending to go to the party office but when I saw so much police deployment, I decided to go straight to Lakhimpur Kheri.

At three toll gates, they had parked trucks so that we could not go across. We managed to, however, cross two of them and then we decided to go via the dirt tracks and village roads. For the next 3-4 hours, it was just one car with five of us in it, and we eventually ended up about 10km from the Lakhimpur Kheri border in Sitapur. At which point, we were again surrounded by police people, and they took the key of our car and refused to let us move. Again I got out and a cordon was made around me of policewomen so that I couldn’t move.

I tried to walk but they were pushing and shoving. Then they started beating my colleagues, punched one of them several times in the stomach and lifted him up and tried to stuff him into a jeep. They also pushed and shoved Deepender Hooda, and manhandled him a lot. At which point, I fought with them and told them they had absolutely no basis for what they were doing. As I was trying to stop them from hitting my colleagues, they manhandled me quite a bit as well. They tried to force me into their jeep, but I told them there was no legal basis for this. Even if Section 144 was there, I told them that four of us will go and in no way are we breaking the law. That point a senior officer told me that they are arresting me under section 151 (preventive arrest) but they had no answer as to what crime I was going to commit. Then they brought me here without my security or any of my colleagues, to this rest house.

That’s the place we saw images of you sweeping the floor?

Yes, I was. I like my room to be clean.

What’s the plan now?

Issue isn’t of my arrest. I have come here to see those families and to raise my voice in their support. There is absolutely no legal basis for detaining me and I haven’t been given any reason for my arrest. I don’t intend to leave until I can meet the families. It’s up to them, they have 24 hours to give me a formal order for my arrest.

The police say that they allowed farm leaders to go in but it’s a fragile situation and that’s why no politicians allowed in

They said the same thing when I wanted to go to Hathras, the same thing when I went to each and every household of those killed in the CAA [citizenship amendment act] protests, the same thing when I went to Sonbhadra and many other places. I want to ask you since I eventually ended up going to all those places -- can you name one place where I made an inflammatory remark or encouraged people to be violent with each other? I didn’t. In UP, despite all those beautiful posters in Delhi, there’s a complete breakdown of democracy and complete breakdown of the law-and-order situation. It’s a virtual dictatorship where all the institutions are meant to safeguard democracy are engaged in safeguarding the propaganda and machinery of the BJP government.

Has the Opposition been successful in this case? Police have named the BJP leader’s son in the FIR and also announced compensation

The UP government usually takes action when political pressure is put on them, which is why it is extremely important for Opposition parties to raise their voice and create pressure. Otherwise, the last vestiges of justice and law and order are also not going to remain if we all just keep quiet. However, the action they take in that moment isn’t complete. So, for example, they have arrested me but why have they not arrested a man who is accused of mowing down farmers and of whom there are videos, ground reports and all sorts of evidence? What moral authority does the government have to remain in power when a minister of the government openly threatens the public? Three-four days later this happened, so what moral authority does this man have to remain a minister and what moral authority does the CM have to remain in power? Please see this man’s criminal history and antecedents which haven’t been highlighted yet

Are you planning a concerted effort with other opposition leaders?

If you look at the last two years, when have you seen Mr Akhilesh Yadav come out on the street for any agitation? Did you see him during the NRC-CAA protests or during the Hathras incident? Did you see him on the street representing the farmers? You did not. Did you see Mayawati ji? You did not. Did you see the Congress party? Yes, you did. Especially in the last 1.5 years including the time there was corona, the Congress party did the maximum work on the ground, maximum issues and maximum relief for corona. We have been working and raising issues and slowly building our organisation. I am open to anybody as objective is to defeat the BJP and prevent UP from falling even more into this quagmire of extremely terrible law and order.

But is there a paucity of faces in the Congress as many like Jitin Prasada have left?

It’s not a question of faces but what you have on the ground. There are people who have left the party, who have probably switched sides because they felt they couldn’t win an election. Our party has to slowly build from the ground and those who don’t have the heart for this fight, who don’t have the courage to deal with the kind of things visited upon them when they do fight (legal cases, harassment etc.), actually should leave. I am not worried about those who are leaving or left, I am more concerned that what we are building on the ground, throwing up new leaders who are connected to the ground and win their elections.

So building from the ground, do we expect Congress to dent Yogi’s chances in 2022 or are you more realistic and know it’s a long fight?

Either way for the Congress it’s a long fight. The Congress has been out of power for 32 years. Whether we make a huge impact or a lesser impact, ours in UP is a long haul and that’s what we’ve done in the last few years. We have initiated the process which should yield something in 2022 and something in 2024 and something else five years later.

Is Priyanka Gandhi Vadra the CM face?

At this point, considering the circumstances we are speaking to each other, it’s a bit frivolous to be speaking about these things. At another time when you come during the election campaign, you will have your answer to that question.

Finally, is the farmers’ issue going to be factor only in western UP or across the state?

This is a factor in the whole of India because it is not just about the farmers. It’s a factor where the whole of India is watching to those who are asking for justice. These are the people who have built the country, whose sons are standing on the border defending your country, on whom your country is dependent for its entire agricultural production. Everybody in the country is watching this and is seeing how in a democracy, the voices of those who are suffering are completely squashed.

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Thursday, January 27, 2022