Protests against the visit of Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya to Lakhimpur Kheri district on Sunday took a grim turn with farmers groups alleging that at least four farmers were killed and several injured after they were deliberately run over by a car that was part of the convoy of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and BJP MP Ajay Kumar Mishra. Four persons in the Minister’s convoy were killed in violence that followed, Kheri Additional SP Arun Kumar Singh said.
Farmers in Tikonia area of Kheri had gheraoed the helipad at Maharaja Agrasen ground to prevent Mr. Maurya from landing, and the incident allegedly took place as the farmers were dispersing from the protest site.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the umbrella group representing the protesting farm unions said the one of the victims was shot, and identified the dead as Lovepreet Singh, 20, Nachattar Singh, 60, Daljeet Singh, 35, and Gurwinder Singh, 19. The SKM also alleged that the car was driven by the Union Minister’s son Ashish.
Following the incident, angry farmers set on fire and vandalised vehicles of the BJP leader leading to the death of four persons.
In a late evening statement, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the Lakhimpur Kheri incident was unfortunate, and the government would investigate the reasons for the incident, “unmask the elements” involved and take tough action against the guilty.
Union Minister Mishra claimed that his son was not present at the spot where the farmers were killed.
Speaking to The Hindu, Mr. Mishra said, “My son was present on the stage where the function was being held, over 2,000 people were present, there is video evidence also. Had he been there (near the helipad where the killings took place), he would have also been lynched.”
Mr. Mishra alleged that some anti-social elements from Nanpara village threw rocks at a vehicle that was going to receive Mr. Maurya, who was the chief guest at the function in the Minister’s ancestral village.
“Stones came flying at the vehicle when it was on the way to receive the chief guest, the driver lost balance... and some could have died in that accident. My driver and three BJP workers who were in the vehicle were chased and attacked with rocks, sticks and swords… they were lynched,” Mr. Mishra said.
The unions, however, denied there was any stone throwing by the farmers. Mr. Mishra said it was a lie.
“Can it happen that there is no stone throwing and someone will run his vehicle over you? This a lie. Some cars that were attacked managed to escape and their windshields are also broken. Six-seven cars were damaged,” the Minister said.
When asked why there was no police action, since it was a VIP function, Mr. Mishra said, “There was an understanding that farmers will protest peacefully, they will show black flags, it is their democratic right. But anti-social elements got mixed with the farmers and attacked the vehicles.”
Mr. Mishra, also known as Teni, said he had invited Mr. Maurya as the chief guest at the annual wrestling event in his village, the Ambika Prasad Mishra Smriti Kushti Pratiyogita.
Denying the Minister’s allegations that the incident began when a stone thrown by protestors hit the driver, Kisan Andolan founder Yogendra Yadav said, “There was no provocation whatsoever by the farmers before the incident. There was no stone throwing. This is completely false.” Mr Yadav was citing eyewitness reports of farmers on the scene. The SKM said around 10 farmers, including SKM leader Tajinder Singh Virk, were seriously injured in the incident.
In a virtual press conference in the evening, the SKM outlined three immediate demands. “One, Ajay Kumar Mishra should be immediately removed from the Council of Ministers. Two, an FIR under Section 302 should be registered immediately against his son and the other goons he brought with him. Three, the case should be investigated by a sitting judge of the Supreme Court,” said Krantikari Kisan Union leader Darshan Pal.
The SKM has also called on farmers across the country to protest peacefully in front of district magistrates offices between 10 am and 1 pm tomorrow.
Mr Pal said farmers had planned to gherao a helipad to prevent Mr. Maurya from landing. After the protests, the farmers were going back when three cars in the convoy of Mr. Mishra ran over the farmers, he alleged. Mr. Pal claimed that Mr. Mishra, his son Ashish, and his brother were in one of the cars.
Mr. Pal demanded that a case of murder be lodged against Mr. Mishra, his son and other persons involved, and that Mr. Mishra be dismissed as a minister.
Responding to the incident in Lakhimpur Kheri, BKU national spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said the incident had exposed the “cruel and undemocratic face of the government.” Before leaving for Lakhimpur Kheri, Mr Tikait said the government should not “test the patience of farmers”. He also appealed to farmers to maintain peace. “The victory would be yours,” he said.
A large number of farmers had started assembling in Lakhimpur Kheri for a black flag protest against Mr. Maurya and Mr. Mishra, for the “open threat issued against farmer leaders” in a public meeting, said the SKM.
As tensions escalated following the incident, BKU leaders appealed to farmers in Western Uttar Pradesh to maintain peace and not rush to Lakhimpur Kheri. BKU sources said farmers from Muzaffarnagar, Shamli, and Meerut were anguished and were preparing to start for Lakhimpur Kheri in their tractors.
“They have been asked to hold on, till the BKU leadership reaches the spot and take stock of the situation,” said Dharmendra Malik, media in-charge BKU. He said BKU president Naresh Tikait has called an emergency panchayat in Sisauli village of Muzaffarnagar to decide the future course of action. Sisauli is the headquarter of BKU.
After the incident, the district administration in various districts of West UP have been put on alert. Top officials of Ghaziabad rushed to the Ghazipur border and held meetings with the BKU leaders.
Mr Tikait said the incident had once again proved that the government could stoop to any level to crush the farmers’ movement against the three farm laws. “But the government is mistaken. The farmers had withstood the might of Mughals and the British government. If the BJP government didn’t mend its ways, farmers would not allow party leaders to enter villages.”
Holding the Minister of State for Home Affairs Ajay Mishra and his son responsible for plotting the incident, Mr Tikait demanded immediate dismissal of Mr Mishra from his post. “Mr Mishra should be dismissed and arrested along with his son,” he said.
Rajesh Chauhan, national vice-president of BKU said farmers were agitated against Mr Mishra after he made offensive remarks against farmers. “In a public meeting, Mr Mshra said he would remove protesting farmers from Palian Kalan to Lakhimpur in two minutes. As the video went viral, the farmers were adamant about not allowing Deputy Chief Minister to land in Lakhimpur Kheri and show black flags to the minister.
“It was a peaceful protest and farmers were well within their democratic rights to show black flags,” said Mr Malik. “Local unit members have said that farmers were hit from the back when they were returning after the protest. Somebody should ask Mr Mishra’s son why was he going to receive Mr Maurya when the deputy chief minister’s programme was already canceled.”
Meanwhile, Rashtriya Lok Dal president Jayant Chaudhary and Azad Samaj Party chief Chandrashekhar Azad have announced that they would be present in Lakhimpur Kheri on Monday.
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav said he spoke to the injured SKM leaderTejinder Singh Virk and demanded that the government provide him better medical care. Mr. Yadav accused accused the BJP leaders for the incident.
“Just one demand, the Chief Minister should resign,” said Mr. Yadav.
BSP chief Mayawati demanded that the Supreme Court take cognizance of the incident.