Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday called the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, “absolutely condemnable” but said such incidents take place in other parts of India as well.
Sitharaman, who is on an official visit to the US, was responding to a question during a conversation at Harvard Kennedy School about the killing of four farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri and the arrest of Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra.
The minister was asked why there was no word on the issue from the prime minister and senior ministers and why there was a “defensive reaction” from the government whenever someone raised these questions.
“No, absolutely not… It’s nice of you to have picked up that one incident, which is absolutely condemnable, every one of us says that. Equally there are instances happening elsewhere, is my concern,” she replied.
“India has issues of such nature happening in very many different parts of the country equally. I would like you, and many others, including [Nobel laureate] Dr Amartya Sen, who all know India, to raise it every time it happens, not just raise it when it suits us because it’s a state where BJP is in power, one of my cabinet colleague’s son is probably in trouble, and also assume that it’s actually them who did it and not anybody else. Due course of justice will also have a complete inquiry process to establish it,” she said.
“And it’s not being defensive about my party or my prime minister. It’s being defensive about India. I will talk for India, I will talk for justice for the poor. I will not be mocked at. And if it is mocking, I will be defensive to stand up and say, ‘Sorry, let’s talk on facts.’ That’s my answer for you.”
Ashish Mishra was named in an FIR following allegations that he was in one of the vehicles that mowed down four farmers protesting over UP Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya’s visit on October 3.
To a question on the farmers’ protests, Sitharaman said that the three acts that the government had brought in were discussed by the various parliamentary committees over a decade.
She said all the three acts had been discussed variously by state governments, and by the Centre after the BJP came to power in 2014.
“This has been in the making for a decade now. Every stakeholder has been consulted,” she said.
“When the farm laws were brought in the Lok Sabha, there was an elaborate discussion and the agriculture minister gave his reply as well. It was only when it came to the Rajya Sabha, there was a lot of noise and disturbance,” she said.
Thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and several other states have been protesting on various borders of Delhi since November 26 last year, seeking repeal of three farm laws.
The farmers claim that the new legislations would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big corporations.
Sitharaman said the protesters belonged to one state and some parts of other states – “Punjab, Haryana and some parts of western Uttar Pradesh”.
She said the government was willing to talk to the protesters.