Medieval barbarism : The Tribune India

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Rajesh Ramachandran

What was on display in Lakhimpur Kheri was an instance of medieval barbarism, an exhibition of feudal arrogance of thugs who wield power disproportionate to their cognitive abilities. The murder of four farmers and a journalist in Tikunia village close to the Nepal border by running them over with a convoy of three vehicles has no parallel in independent India. Even Raja Bhaiya, considered the worst feudal monster of Uttar Pradesh, had never attempted what the Union Minister of State Ajay Mishra’s convoy of cars, allegedly driven by his son and henchmen, did last Sunday. The infamous Nanda hit-and-run case pales into insignificance as the arms dealer’s son, days before his 21st birthday, was drunk and driving in the dead of night.

Instead of being sacked, Mishra is holding forth on prison reforms as the junior Union Minister on the fourth day after the incident. It’s a sad commentary on India’s governance.

But at Lakhimpur Kheri, as two video clips — one in slow motion and the other at regular speed — show, these vehicles were deliberately ploughed into a peaceful procession of agitating farmers from behind in broad daylight. No normal driver would wilfully run over a pup or a kitten or a squirrel dashing across the road and, instead, would in general try to save them even at the risk of sudden braking. At Lakhimpur Kheri, not one but three vehicles were seen being driven at a high speed into a group of unknowing marchers. Sure, the veracity of the video clips can be challenged; but until they are conclusively proven to be doctored, they need to be taken at face value as valuable pieces of evidence pointing towards the culpability of the occupants of the vehicles.

Two accused have been arrested and the minister’s son, Ashish Mishra, summoned for questioning. But that is not enough. All the owners of the vehicles need to be arraigned as accused — it is widely believed that the Mahindra Thar vehicle leading the convoy, which hit the farmers, belonged to Ajay Mishra. If this is true, he should step down or be sacked immediately and prosecuted. Instead, Ajay Mishra is holding forth on prison reforms as the junior Union Home Minister on the fourth day after the incident. All those who have seen the video clips have understood the import of the crime, except probably Mishra’s bosses in the government, which is a sad commentary on India’s governance.

It is impunity that digs the grave of all grandiose political projects, whatever be their claims of organisational superiority. For, no ordinary voter, whatever be his religious or community affiliations, would want to be crushed under the wheels of arrogance of power, particularly in the Hindi heartland, where even an MLA lays down the rule for the local police and administrative officials. Or is the message from Lakhimpur Kheri a new diktat — to mercilessly crush protests in the most monstrous fashion possible? If Mishra is allowed to function from North Block without having to answer for what his son and his henchmen have allegedly done, it would only be read as a carte blanche for goons to literally mow down their opponents.

A peaceful protest of empowered people is the sign of a mature democracy where proud citizens of a free republic act according to the dictates of their conscience. Most farm protesters fall into this category of idealistic opponents to the three farm laws. They genuinely fear that the farm laws would lead to privatisation of procurement and thereby loss of income. The government, which insists that the new laws will only increase the farmers’ income, should have initiated the reforms in Bihar and UP as test cases to prove to the rest of the country that these laws are indeed written to benefit the farmer.

After all, agriculture is a state subject and an NDA-ruled state with poor procurement practices would have been an ideal laboratory to test the efficacy of the new laws. And if they were to prove successful, instead of UP and Bihar traders clandestinely sending their produce to Punjab, there would have been a reverse flow from Punjab. It is imperative to test new proposals on the ground before dismantling smooth-running systems. If only the finance ministry had kept the old TCS-run income tax portal operational while trying out the new Infosys-built system, there would not have been complete chaos for the country’s taxpayers. Similarly, there is nothing wrong in pausing the implementation of the farm laws in Punjab and Haryana beyond the moratorium of 18 months.

Whether or not there is merit in the farmers’ fears, there is no reason to daub them with the paint of secessionism. Here again, the religious identity of protesters is being used to criminalise a genuine movement driven by legitimate fears of the loss of livelihood. It takes a leap of faith to pronounce that there is no Khalistani secessionist terrorism in Punjab, but that really is the case now. Sure, arms and drugs are being dropped by drones, and posters are pasted and T-shirts sported by some supporters. Anyone who has lived in this region for some period of time would know that the entire secessionist trouble is being brewed by our western neighbour, and also by some NRIs. Greed can obviously drive some unscrupulous elements to get adventurous in a border state. But no society should be judged by such rotten apples.

Rather than taking on the governments and agencies facilitating the secessionist NRIs, the hyper-nationalist spokesmen of our ruling dispensation are attempting to discredit farmers by calling them names. A T-shirt here or a poster there is no proof of the protest being led by miscreants. However, the video clip from Lakhimpur Kheri is proof of a Union minister’s henchmen being involved one way or the other in the murder of four farmers and a journalist, thereby causing the subsequent lynching of three others, purportedly BJP supporters. And anyone demanding the sacking of the minister and the arrest of all those who were in the vehicles involved in that day’s murderous “drivepast” cannot be termed a Khalistani.

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