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Lakhimpur Kheri: Modi-BJP's Mann Ki Baat || Midweek Matters 33 || Parakala Prabhakar

22-10-2021published_dt 2021-10-22T13:02:50.185Z22-10-2021 18:32:50 IST
2021-10-22T13:02:50.185Z22-10-2021 2021-10-22T13:02:50.185Z - - 18-01-2022

Hello and welcome

To Midweek Matters. 

Eight people were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri. Four of them were protesting farmers. They were mowed down by an SUV, that belonged to the son of the union minister of state for Home Affairs. In the violence that followed, a journalist and three BJP supporters were killed. It is important that we need to carefully unpack the ghastliness of Lakhimpur Kheri event. Recall what happened before and after the SUV ran over and killed the farmers. Connect those events to understand the context of the event. And to decipher its loud as well as the quiet messaging that it contains for our Republic, it’s implications for our democratic polity and for us the people in general. Today, I will make an attempt to do that. 

Let us recall the Lakhimpur Kheri event. On the 3rd of this month farmers protesting against the Farm Laws enacted by the Union government and demanding their withdrawal were marching to protest against the visiting Deputy Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. A convoy of vehicles ploughed into the march, ran over the protesters. Eight people were killed and dozens injured. The dead had tyre marks on their bodies. They were crushed under the vehicles. The convoy included an SUV that belonged to the son of Union Minister of Home Affairs Ajay Mishra. Onlookers claim to have seen the Minister's son, Ashish Mishra, running away into the fields. Ashish Mishra, alias Monu, is also a BJP leader in the area and an aspirant for an MLA ticket. Violence followed the mowing down of the protestors. Another four people died in it. Three of them were BJP supporters and one a journalist. Of the three BJP supporters, one was said to be Ashish Mishra's driver.  

On 9th October late night, UP police arrested Ashish Mishra. He did not appear before the police for questioning after the first summons were pasted on the gate of his residence. His father, Union Home Minister of State for Home, said that his son was at home but was unwell. The Supreme Court took suo motu cognisance of the matter. The bench headed by the Chief Justice of India pulled up the counsel representing the UP government. Under pressure from the Court, Ashish was finally made available to the police on the following day. The police claimed that he was questioned for over ten hours. The senior officer who conducted the interrogation told the waiting media persons that the police felt that Ashish was uncooperative and his answers were elusive. They arrested him. When presented to the court, he was remanded to 14 day judicial custody. And on Monday he was given to police custody for three days for further questioning. 

There are a few things that should not be missed about the saga up to here. After that we will try to connect incidents that happened before the ghastly murder took place. To begin with, Ashish Mishra was summoned by the UP police not as an accused but as a witness. Although every piece of circumstantial evidence from the scene of murder pointed to him. Next, dishonouring of police summons was not taken seriously by the UP police. Third, they had no intention of taking him into custody. The union minister simply said that his son was unwell and could not present himself before the police. And he would go to them whenever they wanted after he got well. Fourth, the Supreme Court of India has taken a suo motu cognisance of the incident. Fifth, only after the Supreme Court made harsh remarks and insisted that the accused, however high profile and mighty they may be, should be apprehended that the state's counsel assured the Court that it will be done. Sixth, Only after that kind of pressure from the Court Ashish Mishra was sent to the police for questioning. Seven, if there were no pressure from the apex court, the state and union governments would have hushed up the whole thing and would have left the involvement of Ashish Mishra un-investigated.  Eight, opposition leaders were detained to prevent them from visiting the town and meeting the families of the deceased.

Nine, only after sustained pressure and uproar were they let in. Ten, Internet services in the area were suspended so that communications to and from there were snapped, thus isolating it from the rest of the country.   Eleven, the union minister of state for home affairs was present in the area very close to the police station, probably breathing down the officers' necks while his son was being questioned. 

There are two events of consequence that took place a few days before the Lakhimpur Kheri murders that need to be recalled and connected to them. One, just a week before the murder, the union minister Ajay Mishra in a constituency level party meeting warned the protesting farmers that if they did not mend their ways he would correct them. The video went viral on several digital platforms. Two, a few days before this warning by Ajay Mishra, the Haryana Chief Minister ML Khattar told a party workers meeting that they should prepare to teach the farmers a lesson. Three, we should not forget to make a note that the BJP leaders and functionaries continuously dubbed the agitating farmers as naxals, Khalistanis and antinational forces. Four, the farmers were also accused of acting at the behest of foreign interests out to destabilise the Modi government. In both western UP and Haryana where the farmers' agitation is strong, the BJP seemed to have made up its mind to break it by using its own force. Utterances to that effect by any other lesser functionaries could be ignored. But the words of a member of the union council of ministers, especially the one in the Home Ministry, and a state Chief Minister could not be taken to mean anything else. In a few days after their utterances murder of protesting farmers takes place in broad day light and in full public view. This clearly showed that the BJP leaders have not tried to conceal how they intended to deal with the protesting farmers. Constitutional functionaries such as a Chief Minister and a union minister did not shrink from openly declaring their intent of using extra constitutional methods. Their party ranks have done what the leaders hinted them to do. 

Soon after the ghastly incident in which his son was seen as involved, the senior Mishra dashed off to Delhi and met the Union Home Minister, the custodian of law and order in the country. We do not know what transpired in the meeting. But the junior minister still sits pretty in his position in the Ministry. Evidently, the Home Minister thinks that an investigation can proceed impartially with the father of Ashish Mishra holding office in his Ministry. The country is yet to know what the Home Minister thinks about the incident. He hasn’t found time to express condolences to the bereaved families. Remember, three of his own party's karyakartas have also died. Their families too have not merited the Home Minister's sympathy. 

Even ten days after the brutal killings in Lakhimpur Kheri, we do not know whether the Prime Minister felt sad at all about the ghastly incident. The Prime Minister was moved to tweet about the victims of road accident in Barabanki in the same state and announce financial assistance to the families of dead from the PM's Relief Fund.  This is after the Lakhimpur Kheri killings. He also tweeted to say that he was saddened and that his thoughts were with the families of victims of a house collapse in Belgavi in Karnataka. But so far there’s no word from him on Lakhimpur Kheri. On the day of the tragedy, the PM was in UP, attending an engagement about 150 kilometres from the scene of crime. This is not the first time he was selective in expressing his condolences. On Dadri, Danish Siddiqui, and on several other occasions, the PM chose to stay mum. Even his sadness about the thousands of Covid dead had to wait until his address on Independence Day from the Red Fort to find a perfunctory expression. 

This is disappointing. Completely at odds with the values of compassion and valour that Bal Narendra stood for, and risked his life for.

A far cry, indeed, even from seven years ago when he did not brook the slightest misdemeanour and tolerate even a sliver of impropriety. I’m sure most of you recall what perhaps were apocryphal stories to build the image of an omniscient and non nonsense Prime Minister. They were aggressively propagated by the BJP's mighty digital establishment. One story went like this: a minister in his government was in a five star hotel restaurant, having a leisurely chat with a businessman. His phone rang. It was the PM on the line. He told the minister that it was improper to socialise with that character and he should immediately leave. The minister left. Another told us that a minister was on his way to the airport to catch a flight to a foreign country. He was in his jeans. Phone rang. It was PM. He admonished the minister that now as a representative of India, he can’t be seen in jeans. The minister turned his car around, went home, changed and then took the flight. A woman minister's phone rang in the morning at 9.30. It was PM who asked her what was she doing at home. She said she was meeting people from her constituency. He said, she can meet them in her office, but she must be on time to the office. The fourth one is very pointed. A minister and his son were summoned to PM's office. Told point blank to return the money they collected from someone for doing a favour. Before they could recover from their utter shock, the PM left the room. 

The minister and his son from Lakhimpur Kheri cannot be told to return the lives of the dead farmers to their wailing families. But at least the PM could have asked the son to submit to justice and the minister to uphold the norms of propriety in public office. Should he have needed the Supreme Court to intervene, and the public outcry to remind him of the high values he wants to be remembered for by the people? When such things come to pass, it is ominous for our Republic. For our democracy that we so proudly boast about at international forums. And for the trusting people who imagined their leaders to be tall but only to realise that it was just an untrue, make believe myth making, a part of a gigantic PR exercise.  


That’s all for this week,

Will be back again next week, Wednesday, lunch time,

At 1:00 o’clock. 

Stay safe and do take good care of yourselves and all your 

Loved ones.

Until then, Bye.