Rajat Sharma

Lakhimpur clashes: Let peace prevail


Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh is presently in the eye of a gathering political storm caused by violent clashes between Sikh farmers and BJP workers on Sunday. Samajwadi Party, Congress and Akali workers along with farmer organisations have staged state wide protests in UP, Haryana and Punjab. In Meerut, SP workers threw petrol on the SSP and other policemen during protests causing burn injuries. Congress leader Priyanka Vadra continues to be under detention in Sitapur, farmer leader Gurnam Singh Charuni was detained and later released while proceeding towards Lakhimpur, while all political leaders have been barred from visiting the trouble spot.

There is anger tinged with sadness over the inhuman manner in which people were killed during clashes in Lakhimpur Khiri, and now politicians are busy playing politics to their advantage. Death is not the right word for the eight persons who died in Lakhimpur. They were killed. Among those who lost their lives were four Sikh farmers, three BJP workers and a local journalist.

Police have registered FIR against 14 persons including Ashish Mishra, son of Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra, who is the local BJP MP from Lakhimpur Kheri. Charges of murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy have been mentioned in the FIR. During violence, three persons accompanying Ashish Mishra, including his driver were killed by protesters. The nation has seen the video in which some protesters were beating the injured driver to death with lathis.

Both sides resorted to large scale violence, but it will take long before it is finally concluded who were the perpetrators of violence. The UP government has promised a judicial probe by a retired High Court judge, but the opposition is demanding probe by a sitting judge. It is being alleged that the protesters had come prepared for violence and there were anti-national elements among farmers who were trying to obstruct the minister’s convoy of vehicles. From the other side, it is being alleged that the minister’s supporters had come prepared to teach the protesters a lesson and farmers were attacked.

In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed videos of how clashes took place. We showed video of how a body was lying near an overturned burning vehicle, and some protesters were beating an injured man to death. The man beaten to death was Hari Om Mishra, driver of the vehicle that crushed protesting farmers. Protesters alleged that the minister’s son was in the vehicle, and he fled when the driver lost balance and the vehicle overturned. Farmers allege that it was under Ashish Mishra’s orders that the driver rammed his vehicle into the crowd of farmers.

We showed another video which clearly shows some protesters beating a local villager named Shyam Sunder Mandal to death. Minutes before he died, the attackers tried to forcibly extract his confession that it was on Ashish Mishra’s orders that the vehicle was rammed into the crowd. Mandal’s family members say, he had nothing to do with the clashes. He had gone there to watch the wrestling bout organized by the Minister of State for Home, but was caught in the melee. The video is indeed horrifying and saddening.

In the video, Mandal is heard saying he was sent by Ashish Mishra to find out the strength of the crowd. He was prompted several times by his attackers to say that it was Ashish Mishra who ordered the vehicle to be rammed into the crowd. Mandal refused to say this. He was beaten to death with lathis.

Farmer leaders say the protesters turned violent only when the vehicle rammed into the crowd. They had no intention to cause violence. But I have a video which shows, the protesters were armed with lathis and swords, and had come prepared for a battle. There were several hundred protesters surrounding the convoy of vehicles. The video shows protesters abusing those inside the vehicles, forcibly pulling them out and beating them with lathis. In the background, one can hear shouts of “overturn the vehicles”, “smash the vehicles”, “don’t allow them to escape, kill them”.

The farmer leaders’ version is that they wanted to show black flags to the minister, but the minister’s son wanted to clear the crowd by all means, and the vehicle rammed through the crowd and went up till Tikonia village. Some farmers alleged that Ashish Mishra fired bullets from a pistol and this enraged the protesters. Our correspondent Ruchi Kumar met local villagers who said, Ashish Mishra was present inside the vehicle during violence and it was his vehicle that rammed through the crowd of farmers.

It goes to the credit of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath who acted fast and sent top officials to the spot immediately. These officials worked out a compromise with the farmers. The state government has announced Rs 45 lakh assistance to families of those killed, and a government job for one member from each family. But all these efforts at restoring peace were marred by a phalanx of politicians seeking to reach the trouble spot.

Congress leader Priyanka Vadra was the first to leave for the spot, but was detained at the PAC guest house in Sitapur. Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav was prevented from leaving Lucknow for Lakhimpur, while other political leaders were also prevented from going towards the troubled zone. Congress asked two of its chief ministers Charanjit Singh Channi from Punjab and Bhupesh Baghel from Chhattisgarh to reach Lakhimpur, but they too, were prevented. This goes to show how much importance the Congress party attaches to this incident, with state assembly elections round the corner.

There are so many conflicting statements, claims and counter-claims, and videos relating to Lakhimpur violence that it will be difficult to conclude who incited violence on Sunday. Nobody knows which video came first and which one came later. Most of the videos were made by local villagers with their smart phones. It will, therefore, be difficult to say, who incited the crowd first, and who reacted later. Both sides appear to be in the dock at the moment. Now political parties of all hues have jumped into the fray, keeping the crucial UP and Punjab elections in mind.

The opposition has found an issue to corner Yogi Adityanath, because the death of so many people, including farmers, is, in itself, a sensitive issue. A race has begun among politicians for scoring brownie points over one another. While the BJP government announced Rs 45 lakh compensation for each of those who died in the clashes, opposition parties are demanding Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore compensation. While the state government has announced judicial probe by a retired HC judge, the opposition is demanding probe by a sitting HC judge, or a probe under Supreme Court’s supervision.

Yogi Adityanath did not lose time in taking decisions about announcing a judicial probe and compensation for the victims. He acted with foresight and did not make it a prestige issue. He sent senior most police officials to the spot to calm down tempers. He has managed to arrest the spread of violence. But incitement of farmers by politicians still continues, and even a spark can ignite a fire. Peace is the need of the hour.

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