Home / Opinion / Columns /  Farmer leaders should keep a lid on distractions

It was the evening of 4 October. We were just moving towards Delhi from Gajraula and got caught up in a traffic jam. As far as the eye could see, there was nothing but bumper-to-bumper vehicles. Then an ambulance siren blared from somewhere far behind.

I got down from my car and requested the driver of the vehicle behind me to make way for the ambulance. He was fully absorbed in music, but nodded his head. I also persuaded the next two or three vehicles to make way. A few more people watching the chaos came to help. After much struggle, we were able to get the ambulance moving. I cannot forget the two helpless eyes behind the ambulance curtain. What would have been the condition of the patient in the ambulance?

This is the highway used by thousands of vehicles every day, paying exorbitant toll 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 the traffic running smoothly, but when the police had themselves blocked the road, who could we turn to?

After a little bit of enquiry, I learnt that Rashtriya Lok Dal president Jayant Chaudhary had taken this route to Lakhimpur Kheri a few hours earlier. He could not be stopped, while the common man and critical patients struggled. At that time, I had no idea that the same fate would be awaiting all roads in Uttar Pradesh. Top leaders of opposition parties wanted to visit Lakhimpur and Bahraich. The government was stopping them so that no more unpleasant incidents happened. In this tug of war, the passers-by suffered, while the power elite did not.

Let’s come to the sad story of Lakhimpur. It is as if we ourselves have become a part of some sensational formula film. 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 this clamour of “my farmers, your farmers", have the real issues disappeared?

The people whose vehicles crushed the farmers were associated with the Union minister of state for home. Can this behaviour be expected of him? His son is the main accused in this case of murder. He was absconding at first, but after repeated notices by the police and receiving a reprimand from the Supreme Court, he appeared before the police, six days after the incident. This is why the Supreme Court has expressed deep displeasure over it.

Last year, when batches of farmers from villages in Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh were gathering on the borders of Delhi, the question arose as to how long would the agitation last? They have stood firm till today in the face of bad weather, epidemics and various allegations.

It’s also creating a problem for the people of the surrounding areas. Farmers are well aware of this. They made every effort to make sure that the conflict between them and the government should not go astray. They were quite successful in this.

On 26 January, when some people tried vandalism at the Red Fort, this confidence was shaken, but the farmers’ leaders were able to convince that it was the work of a handful of chaotic and undesirable elements. People believe that these sons of the soil sweat and grow grains for us. Their progeny protect the borders. How can they do this?

It appears from a video of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence that the farmers’ gathering was attacked by people in vehicles, triggering violence. However, the matter is not so simple. Some such videos and photos have also come to the fore in which the photo of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale was printed on the T-shirt of one of the youths carrying a stick. If these pictures are genuine, the farmer leaders should be alert, as such elements can distract the direction of their movement. Similar things were noticed during the Red Fort incident also.

Let’s leaf through the books of history. Most non-violent movements created new precedents. Imagine what would have happened if there had not been retaliation in Lakhimpur Kheri? Those who crushed the silent protesters deserve exemplary punishment. Forget the politicians who visit the place for electoral gains, the people of the entire world are really with these farmers.

While saying this, I know that it is uncontrollable for anyone after seeing their own people crushed and groaning, but any agitation that goes astray is of no use. Hope the farmer leaders will understand this.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan. The views expressed are personal.

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