The Supreme Court on Wednesday took upon itself the task of examining the Lakhimpur Kheri incident in which 8 people died: 4 farmers, 2 BJP workers and their driver, and a journalist.
A bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, and including Justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli will hear the case on Thursday. The court’s business list issued late on Wednesday night showed that SC had by its own motion (suo motu) filed a case on, “violence in Lakhimpur Kheri (Uttar Pradesh) leading to loss of life”. The case has been listed as item 17.
On Sunday, a mob of protesting ‘farmers’ pelted stones on a convoy of BJP workers going to receive UP’s deputy CM, due to which jeep driver Hari Om Mishra lost control and crashed into the crowd walking on the road, thus leading to 4 deaths. Anti-social elements, at least one of whom was wearing a T-shirt with terrorist Bhindranwale’s photo on it, then brutally murdered Hari Om Mishra and two BJP workers : Shubham Mishra and Shyam Sundar Nishad. Journalist Raman Kashyap also died in the incident.
The incident ignited a firestorm of outrage with media and politicians both making a beeline for Lakhimpur Kheri, a part of Terai region where Khalistani terrorist activity has seen an uptick in recent years bringing back dark memories of the 1980-90 period.
UP administration immediately swung into action, meeting with representatives of the controversial ‘farmers protest’ and agreeing to their demands around investigation and compensation. An announcement to that effect was made at a press conference attended by Rakesh Tikait and senior UP police and administration officials.
On Monday, the SC had admonished the protest leaders on why they were blocking roads and disrupting normal life when the three farm laws introduced by the centre had already been put on hold in order to facilitate talks, and the matter is in court.
“You have strangulated Delhi by holding sit-in protests on highways … even blocked movement of armed forces and jeered them. Now you want to come inside the city and create chaos?”, the SC bench led by Justice AM Khanwilkar said while hearing a plea by protestors to hold a ‘peaceful’ protest at Jantar Mantar inside Delhi.
From the above, it is clear that the SC understands those behind this agitation are not looking for solutions or following due process. They just want to browbeat the state into accepting their demands, to retain their hegemony at the expense of the silent majority of poor and small farmers.
So why is the SC so eager to wade into the Lakhimpur issue?
Horrific post-poll violence had broken out across West Bengal after assembly election results were announced on May 2. BJP workers, their families and anyone suspected of voting for the party were selectively targeted with connivance of WB police and TMC administraiton.
The violence continued for weeks, and till date thousands of displaced people are afraid to return home. Many are being asked to pay up or submit to sexual demands if they want to return. The scale of this anti-Hindu pogrom was unparalleled as the NHRC report, an independent fact-finding team, and data from BJP’s ground workers show. It is estimated that over 50 people have been murdered, 7000 women raped/molested, and anywhere between 40,000 – 1 lakh people have been displaced – some of them forced to seek refuge in neighbouring Assam, Odisha, Jharkhand.
Many petitions filed in SC almost immediately after violence first started on 2 May were put on the back-burner by the SC registry. It was only on 25 May that a vacation SC bench of Justices Vineet Saran and B R Gavai finally heard senior advocate Pinky Anand, who had been requesting urgent listing of a petition against forced exodus of over one lakh people in WB due to state-sponsored violence after the assembly polls.
In the brief hearing, the SC issued notice to both WB government and Centre to respond to the plea, and refused to grant interim relief to people staying in camps saying it ‘cannot act ex-parte and has to first hear from both parties’. The matter was listed for further hearing in the week starting June 7.
Other petitions were also filed subsequently, but all these matters are still dragging on in courts. The Supreme Court had the perfect opportunity to set an example for all police forces by cracking down on WB govt and police, but instead they have not even reprimanded the WB police and administration till date. Instead, the SC recently admitted a petition by WB govt challenging the Calcutta HC order for CBI to probe murder and rape cases!
We have even seen two SC judges recuse themselves from two cases relating to West Bengal – the post-poll pogrom and Narada scam. This gives rise to the question – are SC judges afraid of passing orders against West Bengal and Mamata Banerjee?
As for the Calcutta High Court, on 11 May a five-judge special bench led by acting Chief Justice Rajesh Bindal expressed ‘satisfaction’ over the action taken by the newly formed Mamata Banerjee government in Bengal to restore normality after post-results violence. The bench turned down a prayer by the additional solicitor-general, representing the Centre, to set up a special investigation team to probe the post-poll violence. It was only after NHRC submitted its report and due to dogged perseverance of lawyers like Priyanka Tibrewal that Calcutta HC finally ordered CBI to probe murder and rape cases reported during the violence.
It took 2.5 months for our judiciary to wake up to the gross human rights violation that have taken place in West Bengal. And even now, the CBI probe could be cancelled if Mamata Banerjee has her way in SC by deploying influential lawyers like Kapil Sibal whose reputation for bullying judges with roguish impunity was affirmed by ex-CJI Ranjan Gogoi.
Is loss of life and dignity of Hindus in West Bengal due to state-sponsored violence, less important than loss of life of Sikh farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri? Are Supreme Court priorities now driven by media noise? It is unfortunate but case after case – Loya probe, Rafael allegations, Sabarimala – shows that left-liberal media noise draws SC’s attention like nothing else.