New Delhi (IANS): An AAP rally attended by thousands against the land ordinance on Wednesday turned tragic when a Rajasthan farmer, his crops ruined by untimely rains, hanged himself from a tree in the heart of the capital, shocking India and sparking an ugly political blame game.
“Gajendra (Singh)’s death has saddened the nation,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office said, referring to the father of three who climbed a neem tree at the Jantar Mantar protest site and died after tying his scarf around his neck to a stout branch.
The statement came hours after the dramatic death when Aam Aadmi Party leader Kumar Vishwas, addressing the mass gathering, suddenly spotted the man on the tree, seemingly precariously perched, and asked police and AAP activists to bring him down.
To this reporter on the media stage, it looked as if the man was holding on to two branches with his outstretched hands. He was bearded with a thick moustache and wore a bright red Rajasthani-style headgear.
Three party activists clambered up the tree and untied the scarf. But before they could take a good grip of him, the limp body slipped from their hands and fell with a thud, only to cause chaos at the rally.
Shouting anti-police slogans, some volunteers rushed the man to the Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, around two kilometers away where doctors declared him dead.
One of the AAP activists on the tree fainted — on the branch. Others went up and brought him down after sprinkling water on his face.
A hand-written suicide note in Hindi found at the spot said the man was taking his life because rains had destroyed his crops. He ended the note with “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Rajasthan”.
In no time, a political war erupted.
Taken aback by the suicide, AAP leaders blamed Delhi Police, saying police did not even respond to their appeals to bring the man down from the tree.
“Police didn’t play their role properly. They should have made efforts to save Gajendra Singh. It were AAP activists who put their lives at risk and brought him down and took him to hospital,” said Kumar Vishwas.
Asked why the rally was not halted after the incident, AAP leader Sanjay Singh said: “If we had stopped the rally, there would have been a stampede or other law and order problems.”
Police denied AAP’s charges and said an inquiry was on to find out what happened. The investigation was ordered by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, to whom Delhi Police reports.
The Bharatiya Janata Party hit out at the AAP. Its spokesman Sambit Patra asked: “Why didn’t AAP leaders stop the farmer from committing suicide?”
Modi’s statement was moderate in comparison. “We are all deeply shattered and disappointed. At no point must the hardworking farmer think he is alone. We are all together in creating a better tomorrow for the farmers,”
The first to reach the hospital was Congress leader Ajay Maken, who blamed both police and the AAP for the suicide. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi came calling later.
In Rajasthan, the family of the deceased farmer said he was shaken after losing his entire wheat crop to untimely rains.
Gopal Singh, an uncle of Gajendra Singh, told IANS on telephone that the man was not compensated by the state government.
“He had around 25 bighas (around 2.5 hectare) of land and grew wheat. His crop was destroyed by rains and hailstorm… So far no compensation has been given to us.”
Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot told IANS: “In broad daylight, a farmer has committed suicide. If this does not shake up or wake up the government, what else will?”
The Congress announced Rs.2 lakh as compensation to the dead man’s family.
Kejriwal was told of the incident — it wasn’t clear then whether the man was alive or dead — by some volunteers on the dais. Thinking that the man was probably alive, he said he would call on him affer the rally.
In his speech, Kejriwal accused the Narendra Modi government of trying to snatch farmers’ land to give it to the “super rich”.
“Today farmers have realised that this is not a government of farmers, it is a government of anti-farmers,” he said to loud cheers. “This is ‘super amiron ki sarkar (a government of the super rich).”
Kejriwal questioned the need to enact an ordinance to make land takeover easy.
“What is the urgency? Is there a big emergency? What is the compulsion? Is some major project stalled? Our farmers want to know.”