India’s democracy has turned into a dictatorship, and “sooner than later, there will be an explosion,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said on Wednesday. Gandhi announced that he, along with chief ministers Bhupesh Baghel and Charanjit Singh Channi, will proceed to Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh despite the government denying him permission to do so.
The Congress party had requested the UP government’s permission to allow a delegation of Gandhi, Baghel and Channi to visit Lakhimpur Kheri and meet the family of farmers, who were mowed down by the convoy of Ashish Mishra, son of Union minister Ajay Mishra, on October 3. Gandhi’s sister and Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who had tried to go to Lakhimpur Kheri, was detained by the UP Police in the wee hours of October 4 at Hargaon village. Vadra has been kept at the PAC guest house in Sitapur, near Lakhimpur Kheri, for the past two days, and the UP Police have filed an FIR against her. Vadra has claimed that she has been denied access to legal counsel and has been detained illegally.
Since Vadra’s detention, the Congress party has upped the ante against the BJP, claiming that the Yogi Adityanath government in the state that is headed for assembly elections early next year is trying to scuttle a fair probe into the “daylight murder of farmers” in Lakhimpur Kheri. The party has been demanding immediate arrest of Ashish Mishra and his father, Ajay Mishra, the BJP MP from Kheri and Union minister of state for home affairs. On Tuesday, Baghel, who is the Congress party’s senior observer for the upcoming UP assembly polls, was denied permission by the UP administration to enter Lucknow and go to Lakhimpur Kheri. Baghel had camped inside the Lucknow airport in protest before returning to Delhi later in the day.
The Congress, though, remains adamant on going to Lakhimpur Kheri via Lucknow and has alleged that the Adityanath administration is trying to muzzle their voice. Gandhi made it clear that he is undeterred by the BJP’s attempts to intimidate him and Vadra through detention and arrest. “Whether it is Priyanka, or I, manhandling makes no difference to us. We won’t get afraid. We have been trained in our family to withstand all kinds of attacks. You can kill us, injure us, arrest us, it makes no difference,” Gandhi said, asserting that he will go to Lakhimpur Kheri because he wants to “understand ground realities.”
The Congress party had sent a fresh request to the UP administration for permission to visit Lakhimpur Kheri after the state government allowed a delegation of leaders from the Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party to visit families of the slain farmers. However, by late Tuesday evening, the Congress party’s request was denied. The administration clamped Section 144 in Lucknow too, citing Covid restrictions, the ongoing festive period of Navratri and a potential threat to the law and order situation. Incidentally, the curfew restrictions were imposed in Lucknow after Prime Minister Narendra Modi left the UP capital, where he had attended a government function earlier in the day. Internet services in Sitapur, where Vadra and Congress MP Deepender Singh Hooda have been detained, were also snapped late Tuesday.
In his fresh offensive against the BJP, Gandhi told journalists at a media briefing at the 24, Akbar Road Congress headquarters in Delhi, “Farmers are under attack by the government… farmers have been mowed down, murdered. A BJP minister and his son are involved, but no action has been taken.” Gandhi also dismissed questions on possible violation of Section 144 by his party’s delegation, claiming that the law preventing public gatherings only applies when there are five or more people, but “only three of us plan to go, so where is the violation”.
The Congress leader refused to comment on his sister’s “arrest,” saying, “they have arrested Priyanka, but this is an issue of the farmers… let us not distract; in UP, criminals can do what they want… those who kill, rape are out of jail” while the victims are put behind bars.
Rejecting the BJP’s allegation of the Congress politicizing the Lakhimpur Kheri tragedy for electoral benefits in poll-bound UP, Gandhi said, “Our job as the Opposition is to create pressure because our pressure leads to action.” He also lashed out at the media for peddling the government’s narrative and said, “This (building pressure on the government on issues) is also the work of the media, but they don’t do it, and then they blame the Opposition of politicizing.”
“The institutional structure of the country has been captured by the BJP/RSS. India’s democracy has been turned into a dictatorship. Political leaders can’t go to UP… since yesterday we are being told you can’t go,” Gandhi said. The former Congress president alleged that there was a “massive loot going on in this country – from farmers, from small traders, from common citizens,” and the BJP doesn’t want the Opposition to expose this.
Gandhi also cautioned the government against compromising India’s institutions and said, “sooner than later there will be an explosion… we want to prevent that from happening by trying to tell the government to not interfere with democratic processes which are a safety valve. If you stop the safety valve, there will be other problems.”