Shopkeeper's arrest over video of bouncers to protect tomatoes; "no space for satire," says Akhilesh Yadav

SP worker Ajay Fauji—who had portrayed himself as a shop owner hiring bouncers to protect his tomatoes—is absconding, Varanasi police said

Tomatoes (photo: IANS)
Tomatoes (photo: IANS)

NH Digital

Police in Varanasi arrested a vegetable shop owner and his son over a video in which a Samajwadi Party worker is seen with two 'bouncers' purportedly hired to protect high-priced tomatoes, on Monday, 10 July.

The SP worker is Ajay Fauji—who had portrayed himself as the shop owner in the video—and is absconding, said the SHO of Varanasi’s Lanka police station, Ashwani Pandey.

The actual shopkeepers, Jagnarayan Yadav and his son Vikas Yadav, were arrested Sunday for 'defamation', the police said. In the video, the SP worker had claimed that he deployed two bouncers to deal with customers haggling over the price of tomatoes.

The SP has been criticising the BJP government over the rising prices of the commodity for a while. Fauji had also cut a tomato-shaped cake and distributed tomatoes to mark the birthday of party president Akhilesh Yadav on 1 July recently.

Police said a case has been registered under Sections 153 (provocation with intent to cause riot), 291 (continuance of nuisance after injunction to discontinue) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.

In a tweet in Hindi on Monday, SP president Akhilesh Yadav said there was apparently “no space” left for satire and sarcasm in the country. 

"I kept hearing about arguments over the tomato price among people. People at my shop too tried to haggle. So to put an end to the constant arguments, I decided to deploy bouncers in uniform at my cart," Fauji had told PTI when they were covering the 'story'.

According to the article, 'Fauji's shop' also had a placard mentioning the rising prices of commodities over the last "nine years", in apparent reference to the period the Narendra Modi-led government has been in power at the Centre.

Fauji, who is selling tomatoes at Rs 140–160 per kg, has the bouncers deployed at his cart from 9 am to 5 pm, the PTI story had said.

Fauji refused to reveal to the media how much he hired the men for. "No one will provide bouncers free of cost," was all he would say. Asked how keeping bouncers has helped him, Fauji claimed that even though people are coming in same numbers, they were less militant about the pricing now.

Yadav too shared the image of a news clip of Fauji and his bouncers, and tweeted, "The BJP should provide 'Z-Plus' security to tomatoes."

In another tweet, Yadav wrote in Hindi: "To what extent it is appropriate to make the vegetable seller sit in the police station, who draws the attention of the government on the issue of public interest like price rise in Varanasi." Yadav demanded the release of the vegetable seller immediately.

Of course, it isn't just opposition political parties criticising the tomato price inflation and demanding answers from the BJP-ruled central government.

Private citizens on the internet have not lagged behind either.

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