Lucknow: After Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra got detained in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur in the early hours of Monday on her way to Lakhimpur Kheri where eight protesters were killed a day earlier, she questioned why the murder-accused son of a Union Minister had not been arrested.
“If you can arrest us, why not the murder-accused minister’s son,” the Congress leader told media in an exclusive interview from a government guest house in Sitapur where she was detained. She called it a “complete collapse of the democratic, legal process” in Uttar Pradesh, where the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government is in power.
On Sunday, Gandhi and other Congress leaders accompanying her, including Deepender Hooda, had reached the Lakhimpur border in the morning but were not allowed to meet the families of the farmers who died in the violence during a protest a day earlier but were arrested in the early hours en route to Lakhimpur Kheri
The violence had erupted during protests against the visit of Union Minister Ajay Kumar Mishra and UP Deputy Chief Minister Swami Prasad Maurya to Lakhimpur Kheri for an event. Protesters gathered to stop the ministers as they were upset with a past comment of Mr Mishra on the farmer protests.
The farmers allege that the Union Minister’s son Ashish ran over the protesters, killing them. The UP police have named Ashish Mishra in an FIR, but the minister insists that neither he nor his son were at the spot.
Several opposition leaders were stopped from travelling to Lakhimpur Kheri as the deaths became a political flashpoint in poll-bound UP.
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra said she was stopped around 4 am, when she was on the outskirts of Lakhimpur Kheri, around 130 KM from Lucknow.
She said she was told she was arrested under Section 151 on grounds that she was “going to commit a crime in future”.
“They did not show me any papers. If they do not give me any papers, I can call it kidnapping…If they don’t charge me in 24 hours under Section 151, I can walk free. I don’t have access to lawyers though I am told I have the right,” Priyanka Gandhi said.
According to her, the police first told them they were violating Section 144 (ban on large gatherings). “When we told them we are not even four people, they said Section 151. Policemen and women pushed and shoved me. I was manhandled. How am I going to cause a riot like this? An accused minister’s son is not arrested but they are stopping political leaders? The minister has not resigned, his son has not been arrested… I was simply going to somebody’s house!”
Asked whether she was speaking from, she said “I am currently in Sitapur, I guess, but I am not sure. When I left the house (Lucknow), police officers didn’t allow my car to move and then I left my car and decided to walk. We got in somebody’s car. They tried to stop us at several toll roads, then they lost us. We drove through some villages. They finally found us and stopped us at the point between Sitapur and Lakhimpur.”
On the BJP accusing her and the Congress of “playing politics” over the violence, she snapped: “Every time we are say something, we are accused of playing politics. When the BJP does it then they are being nationalists. What kind of nationalists are these? That they make laws that are completely destroy the farmers? Which nationalist does this to farmers?”