A probe after prodding: On Lakhimpur Kheri violence

U.P. police must do a credible probe to inspire public confidence in farmers’ killing case

October 11, 2021 12:02 am | Updated 11:18 am IST

The arrest of Ashish Mishra , son of Union Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra, appears to be a course of action impelled mainly by the intervention of the Supreme Court, which voiced its dissatisfaction with the way the Uttar Pradesh police were handling the killing of four farmers and four others during a protest. By taking cognisance of the incidents that took place during a farmers’ protest at Tikonia in Lakhimpur-Kheri district, the Court may have helped infuse some much-needed impetus to the investigation. The Bench gave enough time until its next hearing on October 20 to the police to pursue the probe diligently, but not without thinking aloud on whether any other agency ought to take it over and asking the State police chief to preserve the evidence. The arrest of the Minister’s son, coming after he had skipped an earlier summons and was questioned for long hours once he appeared, is largely in response to the Court’s criticism. The Bench, headed by the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, wondered how investigators in a murder case could merely issue summons to the prime suspect instead of taking steps to apprehend him. Scepticism about the intentions of the State police is not misplaced. It is not the first time that the initial response is one of hesitancy and obfuscation, but once an incident blows up enough to occasion judicial intervention, there is some action.

What is known so far is that vehicles in the Minister’s convoy ploughed through a group of farmers, causing four deaths. Three others may have died in retaliatory violence by the infuriated mob, while Raman Kashyap, a television reporter, may also have been run over. Initial reports that the driver lost control after being hit by a hail of stones have been superseded by footage that seems to show the vehicle being driven into a group of unsuspecting people. The FIR says Ashish Mishra was in one of the cars, even though he claims to have been elsewhere. The role of the Union Minister should also be subjected to scrutiny, as some reports suggest he may have made a provocative speech earlier to the effect that the protesting farmers should either mend their ways or he would set them straight. The mention of a ‘conspiracy’ in the FIR gives scope to the police to examine this angle. It is regrettable that the Union government is noticeably silent, and there appears to be no effort to advise Mr. Ajay Mishra to step down until his and his son’s names are cleared. It is difficult to see how an impartial probe can go on as long as he is in office, and his party’s government in the State is seen to be soft on the accused. The onus is on the Uttar Pradesh police now to conduct a credible investigation, if the Court does not replace the present set of investigators.

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