NEW DELHI — Two days after a farmer from Rajasthan hanged himself at an Aam Aadmi Party rally, arranged, ironically, to address the plight of agriculturists hit by unseasonal rain and hailstorms, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal admitted on Friday that not calling off the event was a mistake.
Kejriwal has drawn criticism from all quarters for finishing his speech even when 41-year-old Gajendra Singh climbed a tree close to the platform from where he was giving his speech, tied a noose of cloth around his neck and hanged himself.
The reaction of the party even after the death was also far from ideal. Party leaders shot out at their critics on television channels with acerbic comebacks even as a political blame game was on between the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and AAP.
"I was to deliver an hour long speech but I wrapped it up in 10-15 minutes. I think that was my mistake. Probably I should not have spoken. If that has hurt anyone's sentiments I would like to apologise.
"I am guilty. Blame me. I feel the rally should have been called off. But please focus on the real issue of the farmers and desist from politicking. Whoever is guilty hang him but the focus of the debate should be on why the farmers are committing suicide," Kejriwal said, in an exclusive interview with ANI.
"This was not an ordinary function because a chief minister was present there. I am not able to digest the fact that such an incident took place in from of me. I was not able to sleep that night. Let the investigation state how it occurred, who witnessed it," Kejriwal said.
Seeking to play down his government's face-off with the Delhi Police over the probe of the incident, Kejriwal said he was even ready to file his statement to the police if needed.
"The District Magistrate has the jurisdiction to investigate under the CrPC and the police does criminal investigation based on FIR...if police calls me I will go to file my statement," he said.
Yesterday, opposition members created ruckus in the Lok Sabha over the incident, leading to adjournment of proceedings even as the Centre said it was ready to discuss the matter.
Making his point against AAP, Home Minister Rajnath Singh had said the crowd gathered for the rally "clapped" and "raised slogans" as the farmer Gajendra Singh climbed up the tree and ended his life, prompting the party to accuse Singh of "lying".
Many, including Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, sought a judicial probe to fix accountability, saying police are in a dock over the matter and they cannot probe themselves.
A judicial probe, Kharge said, was necessary as Kejriwal and the Delhi police, which reports to the MHA, had offered conflicting versions of the event.
Former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit sought to remind Kejriwal that he was no longer in the opposition where he could indulge in "politics of dharna".
"As a chief minister his statements should be much more responsible rather indulging in blamegame. Politicising someone's suicide or death is not right," she said.
Kejriwal also toned down the party's shrill attack on Delhi Police a day after AAP leaders sensed a "ploy" by the Centre to target the party using the forces, which they said did not act in spite of repeated requests from the stage at the rally.
"We should not say that all policemen are bad. Should not indulge in blame game. I believe if police had the slightest inkling they would have tried to save him. They must have genuinely thought nothing of that sort was taking place," he said.
The Chief Minister, who has earlier publicly denounced the land bill, underlined that the focus ought to be on preventing "forcible land acquisition", appropriate compensation for damaged crops as a "right" and implementation of Swaminathan committee recommendations.
"Whatever is happening for the last two days is not right. Don't tear the issue into pieces. It will get you TRPs but farmers won't get anything out of it. "Delhi's farmers are happy with the compensation amount that I have declared," Kejriwal said.