Farmers' Struggle

Planned conspiracy behind the Lakhimpur Kheri violence exposed

Print edition : January 14, 2022

Leaders of the opposition at a protest march at Parliament in New Delhi on December 21. Photo: Manvender Vashist/PTI

Ajay Mishra “Teni”, Minister of State for Home Affairs.

A rail roko by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha in Bahadurgarh, Haryana on October 18, demanding Ajay Mishra’s dismissal and arrest in the aftermath of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. Photo: PTI

While the Special Investigation Team report has concluded that the Lakhimpur Kheri violence was a conspiracy, the farmers maintain that they will not relent in their struggle for justice as long as Minister Ajay Mishra “Teni”, whose son is the main accused in the case, remains in office.

In a vindication of the farmers’ stand, the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Uttar Pradesh Police has said that the Lakhimpur Kheri incident was a pre-planned conspiracy and a deliberate act to kill people, and not a case of death by negligence. In an application filed before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Lakhimpur, the SIT said: “It appears from the probe that has been conducted and material collected till now that the said act wasn’t a negligent act committed by the accused, rather, it was done intentionally as per premeditated plan to kill.”

The case pertains to the violence of October 3, when eight persons, including four farmers and a journalist, were killed and several others injured in a hit-and-run incident in which Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra “Teni”, was the main accused along with 12 others. Soon after, all of them were arrested and remanded to judicial custody. In a second case relating to the death of two Bharatiya Janata Party workers and a driver during the violence, the SIT arrested four more people.

The SIT requested the court to modify the charges against the accused. They asked the court to replace the Indian Penal Code Sections 304A (death by negligence or culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 279 (rash driving), and 338 (causing grievous hurt by acts endangering life or personal safety of others) with IPC Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 326 (causing hurt with dangerous weapon), 34 (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention), and 3/25 of the Arms Act in the charges against them. The court conceded this demand by the prosecution and added the new charges in the warrant, including the charge of attempt to murder. The court, however, rejected the SIT’s plea to invoke the charge of “common intention” behind the incident following objections from the defence counsel.

The application was filed before the court by the SIT’s investigating officer Vidhyaram Diwakar. The Uttar Pradesh government had earlier announced that a retired High Court judge would be appointed to probe the Lakhimpur Kheri violence. It had also announced a compensation of Rs.45 lakh for the families of the four farmers killed.

Also read: Lakhimpur Kheri could prove to be BJP’s Achilles heel

On November 17, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana upgraded the SIT and appointed former Punjab and Haryana High Court Judge Rakesh Kumar Jain to monitor the probe. The bench also appointed three IPS officers—S.B. Shiradkar, Preetinder Singh and Padmaja Chauhan—on the panel “to preserve the faith and trust of people in the criminal administration of the justice system”, according to the bench.

As Uttar Pradesh goes to the polls early next year, this development does not bode well for the ruling BJP. The SIT report received a mixed reaction from the farmers of Lakhimpur Kheri. Speaking to Frontline over the phone, farmer leader Sukhjeet Singh said: “It was undoubtedly an attempt to murder. We are satisfied with the report but not fully. The main culprit, Ashish Mishra’s father, Ajay Mishra Teni, still holds the Union Minister’s post. Since the U.P. and Punjab State elections are going to be held soon, there was pressure on the administration to deliver on the probe but so far no action has been taken against the main character behind the violence. Given the context of the elections, they [BJP] had an urgent need to whitewash their image.”

Echoing his views, Guramneet Mangat, secretary of the Progressive Farmers Front and member of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, told Frontline that the report vindicated the farmers’ stand that from day one the violence was pre-planned and that Ajay Mishra had been involved in the whole affair. He said: “We are thankful to the honourable Supreme Court which took timely action and intervened in the matter. The SIT was also very proactive and went about the investigation in a thorough manner. The FIR from their [Ajay Mishra Teni’s] side, by default, has been proven to be false. There is no evidence to support their argument that there was an attack from our side. We have trust that justice will prevail.”

However, Guramneet pointed out that the BJP was a habitual offender in protecting and harbouring criminals and so it might not be a smooth conclusion. “Look at Kuldeep Singh Sengar. He got the victim killed and yet the court recently discharged him from murder charges against her. Remember how Swami Chinmayanand was dealt with? He was acquitted despite mounting evidence. There is already an old case of murder pending against Ajay Mishra on which the court has not given a ruling yet. Why is that so? Why is the Allahabad High Court not pronouncing its verdict in the case? All this goes on to show that justice might be difficult but after the SIT’s report, I am hopeful. We will fight this out and fight till the culprits get punished.”

Attempt to manufacture riots

According to the farmers, the atmosphere in Lakhimpur Kheri continues to be tense as the BJP is trying to manufacture riots in the area. In Nighasan, the farmers were not being allowed to gather even for meetings while the BJP was freely taking out rallies and “trying to provoke people”.

A few weeks ago, posters of Ashish Mishra had sprung up across Lakhimpur, projecting him as a candidate in the upcoming Assembly election. Angry farmers, upset that the posters might spread disharmony, approached the sub-divisional magistrate [SDM] and demanded that the posters be removed. The SDM not only denied them permission to take down the posters but also countered them by asking if the farmers would henceforth not allow people to walk on the roads as well. With no compromise possible at the SDM’s office, the farmers themselves tore up the posters. As one of the farmers said: “The locals know the real face of Teni’s family. Gunda aakhir gunda hi hota hai, chahe koi bhi party ka ho [once a criminal, always a criminal, no matter which political party he joins].”

Also read: BJP turns Lakhimpur Kheri into new Hindutva battleground

The farmers of Lakhimpur Kheri say that as long as Ajay Mishra remains in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, they will not relent in their struggle for justice. Guramneet said: “The BJP will not win a single seat from this area. The longer he [Ajay Mishra] stays on in the party and the Cabinet, the more he harms their cause.”.

Exposing the BJP’s doublespeak on the matter, Guramneet pointed out that Harvindar Kumar Sahni of Palia Vidhan Sabha constituency, one of the candidates campaigning in the villages, happens to be the one who started the whole tirade against the farmers during the protests against the farm laws. Guramneet said: “There is a viral video in which both Sahni and the MoS are seen making instigating speeches against the farmers. Everyone has seen that video. How can the farmers allow him to come to their village and seek votes now? He has reached this position due to the democratic process of elections and thinks he has grown above the law. But he is forgetting that the people can show him the door in the next elections and take that power away.”

The opposition has thrown its weight behind the agitating farmers and is demanding the expulsion of Mishra from the post of the Minister of State. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee slammed the BJP government over the SIT report and said: “Shouldn’t the Home Minister resign? Won’t the Prime Minister discuss the matter in Parliament?”

Uproar in Parliament

In the winter session of Parliament, both the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha were adjourned many times as opposition leaders led by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi demanded the sacking of Mishra.

During question hour on December 16, Rahul Gandhi said: “This Minister should be removed from the government. He is a criminal, action should be taken against him. The Minister’s involvement in Lakhimpur Kheri killings has come to light. It has been said that there was a conspiracy. We should be allowed to speak about it…. Your Minister here has attacked farmers. He should resign. His involvement is there. There has been a conspiracy. He should be punished for that. He should be removed from the government.”

Also read: ‘The strongman image of the Prime Minister is in tatters’

Congress Member of Parliament Mallikarjun Kharge, who moved an adjournment motion in the Rajya Sabha to discuss the Lakhimpur Kheri violence said: “The recommendation of the SIT that all accused, including the son of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, be charged with attempt to murder, shows the Minister’s son was directly responsible for the murders and as such the MoS must immediately be removed from his position to ensure a free and fair trial of the murder of innocent farmers.”

Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also stepped up her attack and demanded that Ajay Mishra be sacked and charged according to law. She tweeted: “The government’s refusal to sack Ajay Mishra Teni is the starkest indication of its moral bankruptcy. PM Modiji, carefully curated spectacles of piety and wearing religious attire will not change the fact that you are protecting a criminal. Ajay Mishra Teni should be sacked and charged in accordance with the law.”

Even as the three contentious farm laws have been rolled back by the BJP government, it remains to be seen whether the move will benefit the party in the upcoming elections. Farmers in western Uttar Pradesh continue to hold sit-ins demanding their dues from sugarcane factories. In Palia, for instance, a total of Rs.350 crore is pending. After continuous protests, a part of that money was paid to the farmers but Rs.262 crore still remain unpaid. Guramneet said: “Who will be accountable for this payment? Of course the government! They have enough money to put up photos of Yogi and Modi on hoardings outside the Delhi Metro and Bangalore airport then why don’t they have money to pay us farmers?”

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