The Yogi Adityanath government Monday blocked roads, stopped flights and detained several to stop the Opposition from reaching Lakhimpur Kheri, where four farmers were killed in an incident allegedly involving a vehicle owned by Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra on Sunday.
Almost exactly a year after the UP Police did its best to stop the Opposition from reaching the village of the Hathras murder-gang rape victim, the state administration detained Congress, Samajwadi Party and BSP leaders, including Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and Akhilesh Yadav, as they tried to make their way to Lakhimpur Kheri by road while prevented aircraft carrying Congress CMs Bhupesh Baghel and Charanjit Singh Channi from landing in UP. Several Congress leaders from Punjab were stopped on the Haryana-UP border.
The Congress pressed three demands — removal of Union minister Mishra, arrest of those responsible for the farmer deaths, and compensation of Rs 1 crore to their families.
Vadra, the Congress general secretary and UP in-charge, was detained early Monday in Sitapur district, along with former Haryana MP Deepender Hooda, under Section 151 (to prevent commission of cognizable offences). Videos went viral of Vadra arguing with policemen late on Sunday night, asking them to show a warrant for stopping her. She later released a statement, saying “When force is used, it means the government has lost the moral right. I left home not to commit some crime but to meet the families of victims… If there was something wrong, where was the order to stop me or a warrant?”
Akhilesh, the SP chief, was stopped in Lucknow, and sat outside his residence in protest, before being detained for a couple of hours. Agitated party workers reportedly manhandled a police official, while a police vehicle was set ablaze by unidentified persons.
BSP leaders said police were not letting them move out of their homes. Mayawati said BSP MP Satish Chandra Mishra was stopped, with officials saying prohibitory orders in Lakhimpur Kheri did not allow anyone to visit till the situation was normal. She said that given the high-profile accused, justice to the victims “does not seem possible”, and demanded a judicial inquiry.
Vadra is being kept at the PAC 22 Battalion guesthouse in Sitapur, allegedly under house arrest, with Congressmen sitting outside in protest. A video showed her sweeping the floor of the guesthouse. The Congress Twitter handle said she was on “hunger strike”. Sources said the party is considering legal action on her detention.
Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Priyanka, I know you won’t step back — they are scared by your courage.” Earlier, Vadra had been stopped from proceeding to Hathras as well as, in 2019, from meeting families of Dalits killed in Sonbhadra firing.
Other Congress leaders also claimed they had been put under “house arrest”, including Salman Khurshid and Pramod Tiwari.
Baghel shared the letter issued by the administration instructing that his flight not be allowed to land at Lucknow. He asked how Section 144 in Lakhimpur Kheri could be used to restrain him in Lucknow. Adding that Vadra had been “manhandled”, he said: “Fundamental rights in a democracy are being infringed upon… Is a separate visa required to go to UP?”
Congress leaders said Punjab Deputy CM Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa was detained at the Haryana-UP border, after being stopped from landing at Lucknow airport. Channi too could not make his way to Lakhimpur Kheri.
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said Vadra was “harassed, pushed, roughed up”. “The country is now in the grip of an intolerant, autocratic, anti-farmer and anti-people government.”
Congress general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, to whom Mishra directly reports, had “not uttered a word on this cold-blooded murder”.
Akhilesh said “even Britishers would not have committed such atrocities against farmers” and demanded resignation of Mishra, as well as Rs 2 crore compensation for the families of the Lakhimpur Kheri victims along with a government job. The SP called for dharna across the state against the “arrogant” BJP government.
Lucknow Police Commissioner D K Thakur said they would take action if the sub-inspector allegedly manhandled by SP workers came forward.
Also detained was Akhilesh’s uncle and Pragatisheel Samajwadi Party chief Shivpal Singh Yadav. He was taken to the Police Lines and later released.
Bhim Army chief Chandrashekhar Azad said he was detained in Sitapur, though he eventually made his way to Lakhimpur Kheri.
On Monday night, AAP MP Sanjay Singh was held in Sitapur and reportedly taken to a local guesthouse. He asked if offering condolences over the death of farmers was “a crime” in UP, and sought a high-level inquiry under a judge.
Criticising Opposition leaders for trying to go to Lakhimpur Kheri, state minister and spokesperson Sidhartha Nath Singh accused them of “political tourism” and “political competition” as polls were round the corner. According to Singh, the Opposition “should have waited for at least 24 hours”.
The Chhattisgarh BJP attacked Baghel, accusing him of “doing politics over dead bodies”. Ex CM Raman Singh tweeted: “Tribal farmers died in Bastar’s Silger, they are protesting for five months. Who out of Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka Gandhi and Bhupesh Baghel visited the families?”
With inputs from ENS, Raipur