THE gruesome attack on protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh on October 3 marks a new level of violence against the farmers’ movement which has been going on for the past ten months.
The farmers were protesting the visit of the deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Keshav Prasad Maurya, who was to attend a function organised by the union minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni.
The farmers had assembled near a place where the deputy chief minister was to arrive, when a convoy of cars led by a vehicle owned by Ajay Mishra and with his son, Ashish Mishra in it, ploughed into the protestors killing four and severely injuring others, including the kisan leader Tejinder Singh Virk. Four of those in the car which overturned were beaten and died. The farmers present have given eye-witness accounts as to how Ashish Mishra fled the scene by running through the adjoining fields.
This brazen attack has come in the background of the hardening of the Modi government’s position on the farm laws and the farmers’ agitation. A week before, the prime minister, in an interview to a news magazine, had combatively defended the farm laws and accused the opposition of “intellectual dishonesty”, “political deceit” for opposing them. The Haryana chief minister, Manohar Lal Khattar, had followed with a speech to the BJP’s kisan morcha in which he called for volunteers in different areas to be enrolled to take up sticks and adopt a “tit for tat” policy against the agitating farmers.
In the case of Lakhimpur Kheri, the minister Ajay Mishra had made a provocative speech on September 25 threatening violence against the farmers protesting against the farm laws. The attack on the farmers followed a few days later. The statements of the BJP ministers and leaders have assumed a tone of desperation seeing the continuing intensity of the farmers’ movement and their inability to disrupt it.
Earlier, in Haryana, Khattar had to back down after the police launched a brutal lathicharge on protestors at a toll plaza near Karnal. A farmer died after injuries suffered in the attack. Before that, the sub-divisional magistrate Ayush Sinha had called upon the police force to “break the heads of farmers who tried to breach the cordon”. After this shocking incident, the farmers under the leadership of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha laid siege to the mini-secretariat at Karnal. After four days, the administration backed down and accepted the major demands which included a judicial enquiry, compensation and a job for the family of the deceased farmer and the officer Sinha was sent on leave.
After the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, thousands of farmers collected at the spot and the Uttar Pradesh administration was compelled to accept some of the key demands after negotiations with the kisan leaders. These include filing of an FIR on murder charges naming the son of the minister; the administration asked for seven days’ time to act on the FIR; Rs 45 lakh compensation for the families of those who died and Rs 10 lakh for those injured. The government also announced an enquiry by a retired High Court judge. It remains to be seen if the police will conduct an impartial investigation.
Every time, the State machinery sought to use the police or other methods to suppress the movement, the farmers have fought back. This has been the pattern ever since the January 26 incidents in Delhi and around.
The Adityanath regime is notorious for its heavy-handed repression and police excesses. All the leaders of opposition parties who tried to reach Lakhimpur Kheri the next day were stopped or detained. In many places in the state, peaceful protests against the incident have not been allowed.
When a union minister of state, and that too of home affairs, is responsible for provoking such a violent incident, in which his own son is involved, it is the elementary duty of the prime minister and the government to remove him from this position. But this has not been done. The prime minister or the union home minister have not even condemned the killing of the farmers. The prime minister did not even refer to the incident during his visit to Lucknow two days later.
The violence unleashed on the protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri is an act of desperation on the part of the ruling party. Such violence cannot cow down the farmers’ struggle.
(October 6, 2021)