When Ajay Kumar Mishra 'Teni', MP for the Kheri constituency in Uttar Pradesh, was inducted into the Union Council of Ministers in July, he was relatively unknown outside his close political circles.
A Brahmin, Mr. Mishra was the only MP from the non-OBC and non-Dalit communities to feature among the seven inductees into the government from Uttar Pradesh. The Assembly elections are due in the State in early 2022, and the surprise induction of Mr. Mishra was seen as attempt by the BJP to reach out to the disgruntled Brahmins, the core support and ideological base of the party. In three months, however, Mr. Mishra would be at the centre of a political storm in the State.
Mr. Mishra’s clout runs deep in parts of Lakhimpur Kheri, the largest district in U.P., located in the green belt of Terai close to the India-Nepal border, also known as the sugar bowl. On October 3, three cars from Mr. Mishra’s convoy ran over a group of farmers peacefully protesting against the visit of Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya in Tikonia.
The protest was fuelled by Mr. Mishra's provocative remarks a few days earlier, when he threatened to evict the farmers from the district. Four farmers and a local journalist were killed and several others injured. Three BJP workers, including a driver, were also killed in the clashes that followed.
Ashish Mishra, alias Monu, Minister Mishra's son, was accused of being in the car leading the carnage and was arrested later. Before the media, father and son have claimed innocence in the murder case, and said Monu was not even at the site of the incident. They said he was in in their ancestral village Banveerpur, supervising the annual wrestling event held in the memory of Mr. Mishra’s father Ambika Prasad.
Power-lifting and wrestling are among Mr. Mishra’s hobbies. According to a local source who was associated with the RSS, Ambika Prasad, who had moved to Lakhimpur from Kanpur, earned goodwill in the village initially by lending money and utensils for marriages and other events.
Born in 1960, Mr. Mishra has an LL.B. degree from Kanpur and, apart from owning farming land, runs a rice mill.
People of Tikonia alleged that during his early years, his family was associated with illegal smuggling of the Khair tree, which was once found in abundance in the region, sandalwood and foodgrains. Bharatiya Kisan Union spokesperson Rakesh Tikait had recently referred to these allegations.
Mr. Mishra’s political career has seen a constant upward trajectory, though his early days in public life were shadowed by allegations of a murder of a political rival. Mr. Mishra first won the Lok Sabha election in 2014 when the BJP under Narendra Modi’s leadership won a landslide. He ended the long streak of Kurmi (OBC) domination in Kheri, becoming the first Brahmin to win the constituency.
Before contesting for Parliament, he was an MLA from Nighasan (2012). He was mentored by former MLA Ram Kumar Verma. In 2019, Mr. Mishra improved his margin, defeating the SP-BSP combine by almost 20% votes. From 2000 to 2005, Mr. Mishra served as the vice-president of the district cooperative bank. It was during this time that he was accused of shooting dead a Samajwadi Party youth worker, Prabhat Gupta, in 2000.
A local sessions court, in March 2004, acquitted Mr. Mishra and three others in the case, but a criminal appeal filed by Prabhat’s brother Rajeev Gupta is pending before the Allahabad High Court. The last hearing was in February 2019. From 2005 to 2010, Mr. Mishra was a member of the Kheri Zilla Panchayat.
On September 25, while warning protesting farmers to “mend themselves” or else he would not take more than two minutes to mend them himself, Mr. Mishra had also reminded them of his past record before he was elected a public representative. He asserted that he did “not run away from any challenge”.
However, the Tikonia incident, which has led to demands for his dismissal from the Union government, has mounted pressure on the Minister. On October 5, he dismissed all allegations, regarding his past. “All cases against me had concluded in my favour,” he said, describing the cases as “fake”.