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New Delhi: Four days after eight people, including four protesting farmers, were killed in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri – many of the dead mowed down by SUVs including one allegedly belonging to junior Union home minister Ajay Kumar Mishra – the Uttar Pradesh Police has summoned the minister’s son Ashish Mishra for questioning. Two people, identified as Luv Kush and Ashish Pandey who were in the same vehicle, have been arrested, NDTV reported, citing the police.
The move came hours after the Supreme Court asked the UP government who had been arrested so far for the October 3 incident. “There are farmers and others persons also have been murdered. we need to know who are the accused against whom FIR is registered and who is arrested. Please file a status report on this,” Justice Surya Kant, one of the judges on the bench had said.
This is the first time the police have asked to question Ashish Mishra. While a first information report against him was filed on Monday, the police inaction so far had set off Opposition allegations that the police are shielding the high-profile accused.
Even if persons named in an FIR, even for heinous offences, are not immediately arrested, the fact that the police appeared not to have shown any interest in even questioning the minister’s son had raised eyebrows.
The police pasted a notice outside the Union minister’s home, summoning his son for questioning at 10 am on Friday, the report added.
An eight-member UP Police team will investigate the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
Lakshmi Singh, the Inspector General of Lucknow Zone, told NDTV: “Summons have been issued to Ashish Mishra and he has been asked to come for questioning soon as possible and more action against him will follow.” The move came after the Supreme Court on Thursday heard the matter and asked the state government to file a status report on investigations and action taken.
Sources told The Wire that the Union minister will likely not be asked to resign, and instead will “cooperate with the investigation”. So far, the minister and his son have both maintained that Ashish was not present at the site of the violence.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has found itself in a complicated situation with this incident, given the alleged direct involvement of a Union minister’s son and the upcoming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. The Opposition as well as protesting farmers have made clear how seriously they take what happened.
In addition to the four farmers killed, one of the other victims was freelance journalist Raman Kashyap. As The Wire has reported, his family’s complaint alleges that Kashyap was shot at because he was present at the spot filming the farmers being mowed down.
The incident took place on October 3, and a murder case was filed on the next day, naming the minister’s son Ashish Mishra and others, but farmers allege that the authorities had been shielding the accused by not making arrests for all these days. The Opposition too had been making similar accusations.
Several Opposition leaders who tried to make their way to Lakhimpur Kheri, including Akhilesh Yadav and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, were detained by the police on October 4 and 5, respectively. The CPI(M) has said that the Narendra Modi government must remove Mishra from his post, given his son’s alleged involvement in the deaths. Finally, on October 6, Wednesday, Priyanka and Rahul Gandhi were granted permission visit Lakhimpur Kheri.
Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait on October 5, Tuesday gave the Uttar Pradesh government a week’s ultimatum for arresting Ashish. Tikait had earlier helped defuse the situation at Lakhimpur Kheri on the day after the incident, asking the protesting farmers to go home and assuring them that justice would be served.
Tikait, who visited the house of Gurvinder Singh, a farmer from Moharnia village killed in the Lakhimpur violence, said the minister’s son was seen by many people at the spot on the fateful day. “People have several videos that will come up as soon as the net is restored,” he said.
Gurvinder’s body was cremated on Wednesday morning after a second autopsy was conducted on him as demanded by his family, PTI reported. Family members of the 22-year-old, from Moharia village of Bahraich, had earlier refused to cremate him, claiming that he was shot dead but the post-mortem report had no mention of it. They received support from farmer leader Rakesh Tikait and Punjabi singer Sonia Maan.
The three other farmers were cremated on Tuesday.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha said in a statement that it “maintains that one of the deceased protestors, Gurvinder Singh, was shot dead”. “Samyukt Kisan Morcha demands the immediate arrest of the minister, his son and accomplices and also demands the dismissal of the Union Minister Ajay Mishra and Haryana chief minister Khattar. (The) agitation will not be called off until these demands are met, and a programme of action will be announced soon for the same,” the statement said.
Farmers have insisted that the violence on October 3 was a planned conspiracy by Ajay Kumar Mishra and his son. The Union minister had several days earlier been seen on video making derogatory comments about the protesting farmers, including that he would “discipline them in two minutes” if they were in front of him.
Before this incident, Ashish Mishra was being projected as the BJP’s likely candidate from the Lakhimpur Kheri assembly constituency. As The Wire has reported, he had even starting campaigning in the area and was seen as the ‘popular choice’ for MLA. This incident and the ongoing probe, however, is likely to put his political career on hold.
Note: This is a developing story and will be updated as more information is received.