Union Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi called the protesting farmers “mawalis” (ruffians) on Thursday, prompting a rebuke from Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who demanded her “immediate resignation” and said her remarks reflected the BJP’s “anti-farmer” mindset.
Lekhi later claimed that her words were “twisted,” but she also stated that she regrets making them.
During a press conference at the BJP headquarters, when she was asked about the ongoing farmers’ protest, Lekhi said, “Phir kisan aap un logon ko bol rahe hain; mawali hain wo (you are calling them farmers again; they are ruffians),” she said.
“What happened on January 26 were shameful, criminal activities. The Opposition promoted such activities,” she further added.
Lekhi also stated that the protesters are “playing in the hands” of some conspirators. “Farmers don’t have time to sit at Jantar Mantar. They are working in their farms. Middlemen are behind them (protestors), who do not want farmers to get benefits,” she said.
According to Lekhi’s aide, she was responding to a reporter’s specific questions about the alleged attack on a cameraperson at Jantar Mantar and the violence that erupted during a farmers’ rally at Red Fort on January 26.
Lekhi told The Indian Express, “My words have been twisted. The (question during) press conference was on a completely different subject. Irrespective of anything, if my words have hurt farmers, I take them back and I apologise.”
The BJP MP retracted her statement shortly after the Punjab Chief Minister chastised her for using “derogatory language” about farmers.
“Given the ruling party’s alleged brazen attempts to stifle all voices of dissent and protest, the fact that it had failed to break the spirit of the farmers was clearly rankling,” Amarinder said in an official statement.
He said that while the assault on the cameraperson at Jantar Mantar “was deplorable” and “action should be taken against the guilty,” the Union minister’s reaction was “totally uncalled for” and “provocative”. Lekhi had no right to “defame” the farmers in such a manner, he added.
He accused the ruling party of trying to “malign” the farmers and undermine their peaceful protests from the start, citing “disparaging” comments made by various BJP leaders against them since their agitation began on Delhi’s borders.
Meanwhile, police said the cameraperson was injured after a scuffle with a YouTuber at Jantar Mantar, where a group of 200 farmers had begun a protest against the new farm laws earlier in the day.
“A heated argument broke out between the two parties after some comments. The TV journalist was hurt on the hand during the scuffle. We have taken him for an MLC and will take legal action. The YouTuber has been detained,” a senior police officer said.