Updated: July 23, 2021 7:21:48 am
Union Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi Thursday called the protesting farmers ‘mawalis’ (ruffians), inviting a sharp reaction from Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who demanded her “immediate resignation” and said her remarks reflect the BJP’s “anti-farmer” mindset.
Lekhi later claimed that her words were “twisted”, but added that she withdraws her remarks if they have hurt anyone.
Responding to a question on the ongoing farmers’ protest during a press conference at the BJP headquarters, Lekhi said, “Phir kisan aap un logon ko bol rahe hain; mawali hain wo (you are calling them farmers again; they are ruffians),” she said.
“What happened on January 26 were shameful, criminal activities. The Opposition promoted such activities,” she added.
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Lekhi also said the protesters are “playing in the hands” of some conspirators. “Farmers don’t have time to sit at Jantar Mantar. They are working in their farms. Middlemen are behind them (protestors), who do not want farmers to get benefits,” she said.
An aide of Lekhi’s said she was responding to questions specifically asked by a reporter on the alleged attack on a cameraperson at Jantar Mantar and the violence that broke out during a farmers’ rally at Red Fort on January 26.
Lekhi told The Indian Express, “My words have been twisted. The (question during) press conference was on a completely different subject. Irrespective of anything, if my words have hurt farmers, I take them back and I apologise.”
The BJP MP’s retraction came soon after after the Punjab CM criticised her for using “derogatory language” for farmers.
“Given the ruling party’s alleged brazen attempts to stifle all voices of dissent and protest, the fact that it had failed to break the spirit of the farmers was clearly rankling,” Amarinder said in an official statement.
He said that while the assault on the cameraperson at Jantar Mantar “was deplorable” and “action should be taken against the guilty,” the Union minister’s reaction was “totally uncalled for” and “provocative”. Lekhi had no right to “defame” the farmers in such a manner, he said.
Pointing to the “disparaging” comments made by various BJP leaders against the farmers since their agitation started on Delhi’s borders, he said the ruling party had been trying to “malign” the farmers and undermine their peaceful protests from the outset.
Meanwhile, police said that the cameraperson was injured after an YouTuber entered into a scuffle with him at Jantar Mantar, where a group of 200 farmers started a protest against the new farm laws earlier in the day.
“A heated argument broke out between the two parties after some comments. The TV journalist was hurt on the hand during the scuffle. We have taken him for an MLC and will take legal action. The YouTuber has been detained,” a senior police officer said.
With inputs from ENS, Chandigarh
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