A public protest involving an emotive issue can go badly wrong if leaders do not take utmost care to keep passions under control. But the opposite seems to have become the norm in an age where such issues are sought to be milked by politicians in full glare of television and social media. The suicide of a farmer from Rajasthan in full public view at an AAP rally in New Delhi against the land acquisition ordince, has sent shock waves across the tion. Activists against the land bill are calling this incident an ill-omen the rendra Modi government cannot afford to ignore. A blame game has now started with the BJP and the Congress asking how could the farmer climb up a tree and hang himself in the presence of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal at Jantar Mantar, while AAP leaders were giving rousing speeches from the stage. The AAP is denying allegations of people at its rally inciting the farmer and obstructing the Delhi police. Hitting back at the Central government for using the Delhi police to ‘defame’ the party, the AAP leadership is accusing the Union Home minister of lying in Parliament. As this slanging match drags on, one’s heart goes out to the family of the debt-ridden, destitute farmer. In his suicide note, he has mentioned three children starving at home after his crops failed totally last year. This has become a depressingly familiar story in large parts of rural India. If we go by tiol Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s latest figures of nearly 40 thousand people in the agriculture sector committing suicide between 2011 to 2013, the situation on the ground may well be imagined. Agricultural distress and farmers’ suicides thus continues to be a burning issue. It is also likely to be exploited by political parties and other organisations cynically to take forward their own agendas.
The unfortute incident in Delhi is similar to the self-immolation of a KMSS activist last year in front of the State Secretariat at Dispur. The Krishak Mukti Sangram Samiti was spearheading an agitation demanding land settlement rights for settlers in the hilly areas of Guwahati. As Dispur became a battle zone, KMSS activist Prab Boro set himself on fire by pouring petrol, succumbing several hours later with hundred per cent burns. This was the first incident of its kind in the State, and an FIR was lodged in Dispur police station against some KMSS leaders for abetting Boro’s suicide. The case is now being tried in court after filing of chargesheet. As for the Jantar Mantar incident, the police has now filed an FIR under sections relating to abetment of suicide, obstructing public servant in discharge of public functions and common intention under relevant sections of the IPC. The probe has been handed over to the Crime Branch, and it has begun a background check of the farmer and the circumstances which brought him to Delhi, as well as checking his mobile phone call records to identify the people with whom he was in touch before his suicide. The picture that emerges, whether in Dispur last year or Delhi currently, is a warlike situation developing around a public agitation. Leaders of the agitating party exhorts its workers and activists for a do-or-die battle; the ruling party and administration meanwhile becomes paranoid and develops a siege mentality, indulging in overkill and indiscrimite use of state power. The likelihood of such a situation building up to a flashpoint is very real. It therefore calls upon both the agitating and ruling parties to act responsibly and settle the issue through democratic discourse. Or else they will be riding the tiger of public anger from which it will be difficult to dismount.