Lakhimpur Kheri: Nirmala Sitharaman breaks silence in US
The Narendra Modi government has broken its long silence on the Lakhimpur Kheri massacre, its first comment on the atrocity eventually coming in the US after a visiting Nirmala Sitharaman was asked a pointed question she could not have evaded.
The Indian finance minister acknowledged that the incident — five people being run over allegedly by a Union minister’ son — was “absolutely condemnable” but in the same breath claimed that such things happened also in states not ruled by the BJP.
Sitharaman’s comments seemed in line with Prime Minister Modi’s fulminations on Tuesday against “selective outrage” over human rights violations, and appeared to bear out the questioner’s suggestion that India’s government reacted defensively to uncomfortable 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,” PTI quoted Sitharaman as telling a questioner at a conversation at Harvard Kennedy School, Boston, on Tuesday.
“India has issues of such nature happening in very many different parts of the country equally. I would like you, and many others, including Amartya Sen, who all know India, to raise it every time when it happens, not just raise it when it suits us because it’s a state where BJP is in power.”
It was unclear what Sitharaman meant by “issues of such nature”. In recent memory, there is no other instance in India of protesters being mowed down as happened in Lakhimpur. A Union minister’s jeep led the convoy that hit the farmers from behind and ploughed through them and his son is accused of having been in the vehicle. Days earlier, the same minister had warned protesting farmers that he could fix them in two minutes.
The questioner had asked why the Prime Minister or any other senior minister had not spoken on the massacre, and why there was a defensive reaction from the government when asked about “such things”, PTI reported.
“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,” Sitharaman was quoted as saying.
Modi had on Tuesday said that “selective outrage” at rights violations hurt the country’s image. Despite Sitharaman’s claim of being “defensive about India”, her contention that incidents like Lakhimpuri Kheri happen in “very many different parts of the country equally” would be unlikely to do much for that image.
Former diplomat K.C. Singh had in a tweet on Tuesday cited Modi’s reference to “selective outrage” and said the Lakhimpur Kheri carnage was not comparable to other atrocities such as the lynching of a Dalit man in (Congress-ruled) Rajasthan.
A mob beat a Dalit man to death in Hanumangarh, Rajasthan, on October 7 after accusing him of an illicit relationship with a married woman. Four people have been arrested.
“PM Modi alleged opposition selective in picking up human rights issues. Condemnable as is dalit’s lynching in Rajasthan, does political guilt compare with #Lakhimpur massacre by BJP MOS (Home) son & gang using cars?” Singh asked.
PM Modi alleged opposition selective in picking up human rights issues. Condemnable as is dalit’s lynching in Rajasthan, does political guilt compare with #Lakhimpur massacre by BJP MOS(Home) son & gang using cars? In any case arrests in Raj made, while MOS still not sacked.— K. C. Singh (@ambkcsingh) October 12, 2021
Union minister Ajay Mishra Teni’s son Ashis is accused of driving his car through a peaceful farmers’ protest, killing four farmers and a journalist.
Singh highlighted that Teni had still not been sacked. “In any case, arrests in Raj(asthan) made, while MOS still not sacked,” he added.
In the US, Sitharaman said: “I will not be mocked at.”
She added: “One of my cabinet colleagues’ 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.”