Lakhimpur Kheri: The movement and the politics
It was the evening of October 4. I was driving to Delhi from Gajraula when we got stuck in a massive traffic jam. Suddenly, we heard an ambulance siren. The ambulance driver tried in vain to move ahead, flashing his lights and blowing his horn, but to little avail.
I got out of my car and requested the driver of the vehicle behind me to make way for the ambulance. He seemed preoccupied listening to music, but nodded. I tried to persuade the drivers of a few other vehicles as well. The ambulance was about 300 metres behind me and people watching the chaos tried to help. After considerable effort, we were able to get the ambulance moving. I cannot forget the helplessness on the faces inside the ambulance.
This was on a highway where thousands of vehicles pass every day, paying exorbitant tolls to the National Highways Authority of India. One of the conditions of the toll is that it would be the responsibility of the operator to keep traffic running smoothly. But when the police decide to block the road, who would listen to anyone else?
After a few inquiries, I found out that Rashtriya Lok Dal president, Jayant Chaudhary, had gone to Lakhimpur Kheri by this route a few hours earlier. He could not be stopped. But the ordinary citizen — in this case, a patient — was not afforded such courtesy.
At that time, I did not know that the chaos on the roads in Uttar Pradesh would continue into the following week. Top Opposition leaders wanted to go to Lakhimpur and Bahraich. The government was stopping them so that no more “unpleasant” incidents would take place. In this tug-of-war between the administration and politicians, it is innocent people who suffer the most.
Now, let’s come to the sad story of Lakhimpur. Every day, we see a new leader and a new video in the news. There are concerns about those who lost their lives and those who were injured.
But in the clamour to appropriate the farmers’ cause, real issues have not been addressed. This non-violent farmers’ movement, which has been going on for a year, has now witnessed a bloody incident that has aroused anger and passion. The people whose vehicles crushed the farmers were associated with Union minister of state for home, Ajay Kumar Mishra Teni.
The minister’s son is the main accused in this ghastly tragedy. In the beginning, he was absconding, but after repeated notices by the police, and receiving a reprimand from the Supreme Court (SC), he appeared before the police, six days after the incident (he has now been arrested). This is why the SC has expressed displeasure over it. The time has come to ponder whether politics is for the benefit of society or not.
Last year, when batches of farmers from villages in Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh were gathering at the borders of Delhi, the question arose of how long they would be able to sustain their movement. They have held their ground till today, in the face of inclement weather, a pandemic and various other problems. This has also created problems of mobility for people in the surrounding areas. The farmers are aware of this, and they have made efforts to ensure that the conflict between them and the government does not go out of hand. So far, they have been successful.
On January 26, when some so-called farmers tried to vandalise Red Fort, this confidence was shaken, but the farm leaders were able to convince everyone that this was the work of a handful of miscreants. People were willing to give farmers the benefit of the doubt at that time. It’s general belief that our peasants are anndatas and their sons secure our borders by blood.
It appears from the video of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence that the farmers were attacked first by vehicles, after which the mob turned violent. However, some videos and photos have also surfaced in which the image of Khalistani leader, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, was seen on the T-shirt of the young man carrying a stick. If these images are authentic, farm leaders should be on their guard. Such elements can derail the direction of their movement. After the incident at Red Fort too, this issue of wayward elements causing trouble was raised.
Let’s look back into history. Most of the non-violent movements created new precedents. Imagine what would have happened if there had been no retaliation in Lakhimpur Kheri. The whole world would have stood in favour of them. Even then, those who crushed the silent protesters would have deserved exemplary punishment.
I understand that it is not easy to stand by and see your own people mowed down by speeding vehicles. But violence in retaliation serves little purpose. Let us hope that farm leaders will see the merit of keeping the movement non-violent in the face of provocation.
Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan
The views expressed are personal