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How faraway Lakhimpur Kheri is reshaping Punjab politics as Congress, AAP, SAD look to cash in

Since 8 people died Sunday, Punjab politicians have been at forefront of delegations to Lakhimpur Kheri. Many have also issued statements demanding justice for the farmers killed.

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Chandigarh: The Lakhimpur Kheri incident in Uttar Pradesh is likely to have a bearing on Punjab politics, with the new Congress leadership in the state using it to corner former chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh and woo agitating farmers who were aligned with the latter.

Amarinder had supported the farmers from the beginning of the agitation, and his ouster by the high command was expected to dent the Congress’ standing among farmers and drive sections of them into the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) fold. 

But the Lakhimpur Kheri incident has brought even the sulking Navjot Singh Sidhu out on to the streets, as he set out with a cavalcade of hundreds of vehicles from Punjab Thursday. 

Leaders of the AAP are in UP too, and a five-member team of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is also headed there. The SAD leaders are also set to meet Union Home Minister Amit Shah and UP CM Yogi Adityanath on the issue.

Late Wednesday, Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi accompanied Congress leaders Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi to meet the grieving families of the victims at Lakhimpur Kheri.

Eight people, including four farmers, two Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) workers, a driver and a journalist, died in the clashes on 3 October, following violence after a convoy of three SUVs hit a group of protesting farmers. Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister for State Home Ajay Mishra, owned one of the SUVs and is an accused in the killing of the farmers.

Also read: ‘Protesters can’t be silenced through murder’: Varun Gandhi shares Lakhimpur viral video

What has happened in Punjab politics so far

Earlier Wednesday, Channi had announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 50 lakh each to the families of the farmers who died in the incident, as also to the family of the journalist who was also killed on the spot.

The relief announced by Punjab is more than what the UP government had announced following an agreement with the farmer unions. Channi was also among the chosen Congress leaders who visited Lakhimpur Kheri along with Rahul and Priyanka.

Channi and the new Congress leadership in Punjab has been in the thick of the political action since the incident took place Sunday. A team led by Deputy CM Sukhjinder Singh Randhawa left for UP Monday morning. After their chopper was not permitted to land, the members of the team tried to enter UP in cars, but were stopped and arrested.

On Tuesday, Channi and his cabinet staged a token protest at the Mahatma Gandhi memorial in Sector 16 in Chandigarh.

The same evening, Channi met Union Home Minister Amit Shah. While the meeting had been fixed before the Lakhimpur Kheri episode, the CM made it a point to mention the incident and also demand the revocation of the three central farm laws against which the farmers are agitating.

On Monday, the CM along with other leaders met Punjab Governor Banwari Lal Purohit and handed over a memorandum demanding that the perpetrators of the crime be arrested forthwith.

Sidhu back in action

The incident has also forced the sulking state Congress chief Navjot Singh Sidhu to come out all charged up. He is organising a vehicle march from Punjab to Lakhimpur Kheri with hundreds of Congress leaders and workers in tow Thursday. He announced that if Ashish Mishra is not arrested by Friday, he will go on a hunger strike.

Channi too made it a point to join Sidhu’s march Thursday morning after his return from Lakhimpur.

Sidhu, who had resigned as the state party chief on 28 September over differences with Channi and was busy attacking him through tweets, has been tweeting his admiration for Priyanka Gandhi and the courage she showed in trying to reach out to the families of the farmers killed at Lakhimpur.

He tweeted his intention of marching to Lakhimpur if Ashish Mishra is not arrested within 24 hours.

On Monday, Sidhu along with other Congress leaders staged a dharna in Chandigarh demanding the arrest of the Lakhimpur Kheri culprits before courting arrest.

Also read: Tourist clothes, caps, ‘destination Dudhwa’ — how Trinamool MPs dodged cops to reach Lakhimpur

Amarinder Singh’s uncharacteristic response

While the new Congress team in Punjab is clearly going all out to woo the agitating farmers, former CM Captain Amarinder Singh seems to be more circumspect in reacting to the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. 

On Sunday, Amarinder tweeted demanding a thorough probe into the incident, adding that justice must be ensured. “Violence or provocation of violence is no solution to any problem,” said Amarinder.

However, the ex-CM, known for his caustic and sharp reactions to most such events, has not said a word since a video of the speeding Mahindra Thar mowing down farmers while they were returning from the protest site surfaced. 

In an interview to a television channel following the incident, Amarinder’s responses were measured.

The buzz in political circles in Punjab is that Amarinder finds himself in a tight spot on the incident because of his growing proximity with the BJP. He had met Union Home Minister Amit Shah last month and the BJP leadership is said to be offering all support in his effort to pay back the Congress for “humiliating” him.

Also read: Bargari, Behbal Kalan, Kotkapura — sacrilege cases at centre of Sidhu-Channi discord in Punjab

Congress tries to regain ground lost to AAP, Kejriwal also makes his play

Sources in the Congress say that the party is clearly trying to fill the gap that “farmer-friendly” Amarinder left when he was removed as CM. Amarinder had a section of the farmer leaders supporting him. But after he left the Congress, AAP looked to be gaining traction.

Since the beginning of the farmer’s protest, AAP has managed to make inroads into the agitation because it rules Delhi and the epicentres of the agitation are closer to Delhi. Now, the Punjab Congress is trying to regain the ground further lost to AAP following Amarinder’s departure.

Meanwhile, the AAP too is trying its best to retain its hold over the agitating farmers.

AAP’s Punjab team, led by leader of opposition Harpal Cheema and state affairs in-charge Raghav Chadha, also went to Lakhimpur Kheri, and after being detained for a day, finally managed to meet the grieving families Wednesday. 

Chadha also made members of the bereaved families talk to the Delhi Chief Minister and party supremo Arvind Kejriwal over the phone.

Kejriwal too held a press conference Wednesday demanding action against the culprits.

Wednesday evening, AAP’s Punjab leaders also staged a protest outside the Governor’s house over the issue. They faced water cannons and courted arrest. 

SAD rages too

The Akali Dal has also been trying to get itself counted in support of the farmers following the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. Party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal was among the first politicians to lay the blame of the incident at the door of Union MoS Ajay Mishra and his son Ashish, demanding exemplary punishment.

The Akali Dal dispatched a delegation under the leadership of Prem Singh Chandumajra to UP and called an emergent core committee meeting that resolved to demand action against the culprits, and also reiterated the demand for the revocation of the three central farm laws.

When the SAD delegation was stopped from entering UP, it met farmer leader Tejinder Singh Virk, who was leading the agitation in Lakhimpur Kheri Sunday. Virk was injured when the car mowed down the farmers and is admitted in a private hospital in Gurugram.

Wednesday, Sukhbir Badal announced that two separate delegations of his party will meet Amit Shah and UP CM Yogi Adityanath to demand action against the Mishra father and son.

A five-member team led by former Union minister Harsimrat Badal will visit Lakhimpur Kheri to meet the grieving families.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Who are the Sikhs of Lakhimpur Kheri? Tracing their history, origin, livelihood


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