The key accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence case, Ashish Mishra, who skipped the first summon issued by the Uttar Pradesh Police to appear before them on Friday, arrived at Police Lines today for questioning. The son of union Minister of State of Home Affairs Ajay Mishra, Ashish has been brought in for enquiry over his alleged involvement in running over the protesting farmers.
This comes a day after the apex court, while hearing a PIL over the matter, expressed its disaffection over the investigation done by the UP Police in the Lakhimpur Kheri violence on October 3 in which eight people lost their lives. The protesting farmers and eyewitnesses present at the scene said that a convoy of three vehicles, including one owned by Ashish Mishra rammed into a crowd of protesting farmers, resulting into the death of four. A 29 second video has been cited as proof by many. Soon after this, two of the vehicles including a Thar and a Fortuner overturned on the side of the road and caught fire. However, union minister Ajay Mishra has alleged that the farmers were hurling stones at the cars, which resulted in the driver losing control over the car and ramming into the farmers. Videos circulated on social media show an angry mob beating up a person who was present in one of the overturned vehicles. Some farmers have alleged that Gurvinder Singh, one of the farmers who died in the incident, was shot by Ashish Mishra. But two post-mortem reports say that there are no bullet injuries on his body, a claim that his family and farmers present at the site have denied.
During the hearing, the Supreme Court asked why the accused had not been arrested. When Harish Salve, who is representing the UP Police, said that the police has served summons on the main accused Ashish Mishra, the Bench asked if that was the norm in all murder cases. “We are not on merits. Allegation is of 302 (Section 302 IPC murder offence). Treat him same way we treat other persons in other cases,” said the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana to Salve.
The Bench also expressed its disaffection with the composition of the Special Investigation Team saying that all the persons are local officers. The CJI also said, “CBI is also not a solution, for reasons you know… because of persons.”
The apex court questioned the UP police on why they haven’t arrested the accused if there are clear eyewitness statements. “Is it the way you treat the accused in other cases as well? Sending notice?” enquired the CJI at the outset.
He added, “We expect this to be a responsible government. When there is serious allegations of murder and gunshot injury. How the accused in other parts of the country are treated? Sending notice like please come please tell us?” To which Salve replied that the post-mortem report proved that there were no bullet injuries even though there were allegations of firing on Ashish Mishra.
Meanwhile, BJP minister Ajay Mishra, who has been facing extreme criticism over his son’s alleged involvement in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, attended a national conference of prison officials on Thursday morning. The media who were earlier invited to cover the event were later informed that their invitation has been withdrawn over concerns that reporters could press the minister to comment on the delayed arrest of his son.
The minister had also met with Home Minister Amit Shah on Wednesday, after which, government sources ruled out any chance of him quitting. While speaking to the media, he denied facing any pressure to step down and asked, “Why would I [resign]? There is no pressure on us, We will investigate this…”
When the opposition criticised the Yogi government for not arresting the accused and turning a blind eye to the violent events, Ajay Mishra said that his son was “innocent” and will appear before the police. “We have full faith in law. He got a notice on Thursday but he said he was not well. He will appear before the police tomorrow and give his statement and evidence as he is innocent,” quoted the PTI.
As far as the situation is concerned, there appears to be no clarity and too much going on behind the scenes. One can’t help but wonder how the Yogi government would have responded if the roles were reversed and the accused was an opposition member or a person of the minority.
Looking at the developments, if the accusations against Ashish Mishra are proven, the road to the 2022 state assembly election in UP would become a litmus test for the Yogi government. Even if the political clout rescues him, how will fellow voters react? As of now, it seems that the party is likely to suffer given the way it has chosen to handle the incident and detain opposition leaders, and with allowing top BJP leaders to term protesting farmers as Khalistanis and terrorists, paining the sentiments of the people.