Lucknow: The Congress party has resorted to what seems to be a token protest against the arrest of its Uttar Pradesh unit chief Ajay Kumar Lallu for alleged “forgery” in the bus-for-migrants political drama.
So far, interim party president Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi have been silent on the arrest while other party leaders have only tweeted support while holding the occasional press conference.
Priyanka Vadra, whose offer of a thousand buses to the Yogi Adityanath government had triggered the political row leading to Lallu’s arrest, has also done her bit, tweeting twice in his support.
Having lived a life of struggle, perseverance and grit, UP Congress President Shri. Ajay Kumar Lallu knows well the suffering of displaced and marginalised people. He has fought for them steadfastly throughout his career.#ReleaseAjayLallu pic.twitter.com/Viqe7PX8jp
— Priyanka Gandhi Vadra (@priyankagandhi) May 26, 2020
The Congress party’s token protest has had other parties both surprised and amused.
A Samajwadi Party MLC, who wished to remain unnamed, said, “Hum hote toh eeet se eeet baja dete, party ka adhyaksh giraftar hoga toh ghar per baith jaenge kya? (We would have fought tooth and nail. If the party president gets arrested, are we going to sit at home?)”
A UP BJP leader said his party would’ve conducted a jail bharo andolan if their state president was arrested. “I don’t know what other Congress MLAs are doing. They should also go to jail in solidarity,” he said.
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Lallu was arrested on 20 May on allegations that he provided false documents regarding the buses. He was arrested twice on that day — first in Agra for sitting on a dharna to protest against the Yogi Adityanath administration for not granting permission to buses, arranged for migrants by the Congress, to enter the state.
He was granted bail by an Agra court and released, but was arrested again in Agra after a second case was filed in Lucknow regarding forgery in documents of buses.
His bail plea is scheduled to be heard Thursday, 28 May.
Muted Congress reaction
The Congress reaction to the arrest has been muted so far.
The party’s official Twitter handle has tweeted just twice on the issue, quoting party spokesperson Supriya Shrinate and UP CLP leader Aradhana Mishra, who had held a press conference calling for Lallu’s release.
ये प्रतिशोध की राजनीति है। हमारा निवेदन है कि इस राजनीति को छोड़िए, इन आरोपों पर पुनर्विचार कीजिए और @AjayLalluINC जी के खिलाफ की गई प्रतिशोध की राजनीति को खत्म कीजिए : श्रीमती @SupriyaShrinate pic.twitter.com/GYoTptXIba
— Congress (@INCIndia) May 21, 2020
प्रदेश कांग्रेस अध्यक्ष की गिरफ्तारी के खिलाफ व वरिष्ठ कांग्रेसी नेताओं और कार्यकर्ताओं पर लगे मुकदमों के खिलाफ प्रदेश भर में कांग्रेस कार्यकर्ताओं का विरोध प्रदर्शन। pic.twitter.com/uHxZFwOdTr
— UP Congress (@INCUttarPradesh) May 27, 2020
Uttar Pradesh Congress leaders such as MP P.L. Punia, former MP Rajiv Shukla, Brijlal Khabri, former MLAs Ajay Rai and Pankaj Malik have been the only ones to oppose Lallu’s arrest so far.
Priyanka Gandhi also posted a video on her Twitter handle Tuesday backing Lallu.
“Having lived a life of struggle, perseverance and grit, UP Congress President Shri. Ajay Kumar Lallu knows well the suffering of displaced and marginalised people. He has fought for them steadfastly throughout his career,” she tweeted.
Posting an extended comment with the hashtag #ReleaseAjayLallu, she added: “Throwing him into prison on baseless charges during a pandemic reveals the undemocratic and single-mindedly opportunistic mindset of the Yogi Government and violates all humanitarian principles.”
Apart from Priyanka, senior UP Congress leader Jitin Prasada also tweeted in Lallu’s support. But there has been silence from other senior UP leaders such as R.P.N Singh, Pramod Tiwari and Sriprakash Jaiswal among others.
Section of Congress questions silence
The muted response has led some Congress leaders to question the party’s stance on the issue.
According to party sources, Lallu was not even involved in the conversation over the buses.
“What was his fault? He was not even part of email conversations between the office of Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and UP government officials during the bus row,” a senior UP Congress leader told ThePrint.
Another young UP Congress leader said if the police had arrested leaders such as Raj Babbar, Pramod Tiwari or even Jitin Prasada, the entire Congress organisation would have come on the streets even in a pandemic.
“If it had happened, then surely it would not be a ‘symbolic protest’. When former state president Rita Joshi was arrested in 2009 during Mayawati ‘s regime, we were all on the streets. A big protest happened at that time,” the leader said.
Lallu is a two-time MLA from Tamkuhi Raj constituency of Kushinagar district. An OBC leader, he joined the Congress before the assembly elections in 2012. He was the CLP leader in 2017 and replaced Raj Babbar as party president in October 2019.
‘We are protesting but following lockdown rules’
According to UP Congress vice-president Virendra Chaudhary, the party has been doing its bit to get Lallu released.
“We have protested in our party office and even made a Facebook live of it. We are sending emails to the governor regarding this issue,” Chaudhary said. “Several FIRs have been lodged against our leaders who were trying to protest on the streets. We are also following lockdown rules as the whole world is suffering from this pandemic. There are no such orders from top leadership to go on the street. We are trying our best to bring back Lalluji.”
According to UP Congress officials, Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi have talked to Lallu’s family and promised them full support. The party’s legal cell is also in touch with Lallu.
“We urge UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to immediately release our UP president Ajay Lallu, who was only helping migrants,” said CLP leader Aradhana Mishra. “We are continuously raising this issue.”
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