SILENCE IS THE RESPONSE FROM PM MODI AND SHAH ON LAKHIMPUR KHERI: DISTURBING

On 7 October, Bharatiya Janata Party has planned a series of events to celebrate 20 years of Narendra Modi in public office, out of which he served 7 years as the Prime Minister of India. It has been 4 days since the gruesome attack on farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, yet the ruling party has been busy organizing events to celebrate the megalomania of the leader of the country.

It probably may never have happened before in independent India in this fashion; a group of cars, part of a convoy of a Union Minister drives over an innocent group of citizens. On Sunday, 3 October, in Lakhimpur Kheri, an SUV owned by the Union Minister of State Home Affairs Ajay Mishra mowed down farmers who were protesting in the area. Soon after the incident happened non-BJP leaders took on to the streets and social media protesting and condemning the attack.  Yet, there has been no word from the central leadership of the country.

Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh,  Yogi Adityanath wrote a tweet saying “strict action” would be taken against the culprits, and described the incident as “sad” and “unfortunate”. If any word shouldn’t be used in this scenario, it is “sad”. Farmers of India who have been protesting around the country since August last year have repeatedly asserted their demands to repeal the farm laws. It has been reported that over 500  (541 after the Lakhimpur incident) farmers have died protesting against farm laws 2020. The ruling establishment in the country and its workers have called protesters several ridiculing terms such as terrorists, rapists, anti-nationals, Khalistanis, etc, unanimously invalidating the fight for livelihood. Even though the farmers have been present in talks with the central government there has not been any positive response from the government, other than hollow promises.

On 3 October, farmers were protesting the visit of Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Kesav Prasad Maurya. It was Union Minister Ajay Mishra who was supposed to receive the Deputy Chief Minister for the proposed event. The objective of the protest organized by the farmer groups was to stop the convoy of the ministers and a show of black flags. However, a group of SUVs, part of the minister’s convoy drove over the peacefully marching farmers, at a high speed, killing 4 farmers, the youngest among them being just 18 years old (Gurvendra Singh). The farmers later claimed that the convoy was led by Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra, who is an emerging politician in UP’s BJP.

Ashish Mishra, according to an FIR lodged by the UP police later, was not only present at the incident, he was seated in the car that mowed down the farmers and had raised gunfire at the farmers. The FIR goes on to state that he hid in the sugar cane field.  Though state politicians of BJP reacted to the incident as fabricated, with Ajay Mishra claiming his son was not present at the site, a video that was later shared on social media clearly showed the incident leaving no doubts regarding the description of the event.

Priyanka Gandhi who left for Lakhimpur Kheri on Sunday night was stopped by UP police from entering Lakhimpur Kheri. She was later detained in a guest house in Sitapur illegally, without any court hearing. Along with Ms. Gandhi, leaders from the opposition parties including Akhilesh Yadav from SP, farmers leader P Krishna Prasad, Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, AAP leaders, and many more have been detained, blocked, or denied entry to the site of violence by the UP police. Interestingly the Congress leaders were allowed entry after the last body out of the 4 deceased farmers were cremated (The farmers had said they would only cremate the bodies if the union minister resigned from his post).

On 5 October, a day after the video of the incident was released, Prime Minister Narendra Modi landed in Lucknow to inaugurate an Azaadi Expo as part of the BJP’s celebration of the 75th independence of the country. The event was grandiose at its best, with Modi, as usual, using the stage to gloat on the central government’s initiatives on cleanliness, toilets, gas cylinder, education, etc. Neither did he mention the ongoing protests in his speech nor did he make an official statement on the incident while in Lucknow. In fact, on 7 October he has wished the country on the beginning of Pooja, so it would be inaccurate to say he is ‘silent’, he has been very active in the government this week, he just has chosen to specifically and deliberately remain silent regarding the killing of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri.

Narendra Modi’s hesitation to face questions is not new, in fact, he hasn’t been able to face questions in the last 20 years in public office. The infamous interview of Karan Thapar from 2007, where he is seen nervous, taking a sip of water and leaving, when asked about his involvement in the Gujarat massacre is always an accurate illustration of the leader’s handling of questions from the press. It is also well observed by political analysts and the larger public that when something that puts the government in a questionable space happens, the BJP in the central leadership conveniently stays silent and pretends nothing ever happened; that all such news is dystopian.

The Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah who is comparatively more present with the press has also been silent on the incident. He met with his junior, the accused Union Minister Ajay Mishra Teni on Wednesday and reportedly had a 2-hour conversation regarding the deaths in Lakhimpur. Neither Shah nor Mishra has spoken to the press post discussion. The media has reported that high sources in the government say that there would be no resignation, as the minister has still denied all allegations, despite an FIR being filed stating his son Ashish Mishra’s direct involvement in the violence. Amit Shah who is responsible for the home ministry is expected to make a statement on the violence as the culprits are part of an official government convoy of a union minister.

Opposition leaders including Priyanka Gandhi, Aravind Kejriwal, etc have demanded justice in the matter. The supreme court has taken suo motu cognizance in the matter, and a bench led by Chief Justice N V Ramana will be hearing the matter. However, it was the same court that asked the farmers, ‘why’ they were protesting, as the government had stated it wouldn’t be implementing the laws.

One can draw parallels to a similar incident to illustrate the hopelessness of the families who lost their loved ones  when on 13 September 2020, a man by the name of Jared Benjamin Lafer drove his car over a group of Black Lives Matter protesters during the George Floyd demonstrations. The attack resulted in no deaths, but a protestor was left with a concussion, a brain bleed, and two broken limbs. He is now being left with reduced charges by an American court. The man joked on social media about his actions.

This is not to say justice can’t be expected, but in a political climate like this, when major leaders are refusing to speak on a gruesome incident that has been taped on camera and a minister’s repeated denial of resignation, it is imperative to rethink the idea of justice in India. The parents of the deceased Lovepreet Singh, who was just 19 years old, have questioned the functioning of the system which expects victims to be silent after a compensation is declared. The farmers who protested the attack with a display of the dead bodies of those killed, demanded the immediate resignation of the minister, and judicial enquiry in the matter. The latter has been promised and an FIR was filed after that. But still, the Central Government has not put out one single statement regarding the matter, a silence that is disturbing to humanity itself.

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