On October 3 this year, four farmers, returning home from a protest meeting in Lakhimpur Kheri in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh, were mowed down and deliberately killed with three Special Utility Vehicles. The lead vehicle was owned by Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra who is a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Member of Parliament from Lakhimpur Kheri. The vehicle was reportedly driven by the minister’s businessman son, Ashish Mishra.
In the violence that erupted following the killing of the farmers, four more persons, including a freelance journalist and the driver of one of the offending vehicles, were also killed. Eight persons killed and even four days after the incident, the Uttar Pradesh police failed to identify the guilty, arrest them or question anyone.
The police arrested two persons in connection with the killings only after a bench of the Supreme Court of India headed by Chief Justice of India N.V.Rmana and comprising Justices Suryakant and Hima Kholi on a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by two U.P. based lawyers, Shiv Kumar Tripathi and S.C.Panda, directed the State Government to file a status report on the accused in the Lakhimpur Kheri killing.
The police, also following the Supreme Court directive, “summoned” or rather invited the Union Minister’s son for questioning in the case. This, in spite of the fact that a viral video clearly showed that the Minister’s rashly driven car mowing down farmers and the Minister publicly admitting that the car in question belonged to his family. Though the Minister claimed that the car at the time of the crime was not driven by his son, as a responsible minister in charge of the home department was duty bound to inform the police who committed the crime.
The police had the duty to question the owner of a vehicle involved in such a serious crime, however high and mighty he or she may be. Not only the police did not question the Union Minister, they also did not bother to question or even summon the minister’s son until the intervention of the Supreme Court of India.
First, no ordinary mortal would dare commit such a daring crime in full public view, and even if anybody dared, the police would have immediately detained and even tortured that person and then arrested and remanded that person to custody for questioning.
In fact, the Lakhimpur attack on farmers and the subsequent police laxity in bringing to book the accused is a deliberate attempt to please the powers that be, in this case, Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra. So far, the police behaviour has shown that the attack on the farmers was executed with the connivance of the local police. As quoted in the Indian Express not long ago, the Minister had in a warning to the agitating farmers said: “If I get down to action then they would not have even found a way to run away. I want to say to such people to ‘mend your ways’ otherwise I will make them face me and set them right in two minutes.” Very strong words indeed! And perhaps the mowing down of the farmers by driving the SUVs was an act to set the farmers right in ‘two minutes’.
Under the circumstances, any investigation by the local police into the killing of the farmers is very unlikely to be fair and honest. The inordinate delay in the proper investigation of the case must have already resulted in destruction of crucial evidence that would have led to successful prosecution of those responsible for the crime.
The continuation of Ajay Mishra in the Union Cabinet with control over the police force at a time when his son is accused of killing farmers cannot be justified. One wonders whether the violence was deliberately unleashed in the poll bound state to polarise voters on the basis of religion and caste.
We can only hope the Commission of enquiry appointed by the Uttar Pradesh Government into the Lakhampur violence examines in detail the prevalent local social, political economic situation that led to the brutal attack on farmers who have been protesting peacefully for the fulfillment of their rights.