The largest and supposedly the most ‘vibrant’ democracy is still waiting for the Central minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Mishra to resign. Though he was summoned by the second most powerful leader in the country and his immediate boss, Amit Shah, soon after the Lakhimpur incident, he was seen addressing a gathering of senior IPS officers, and later, brazenly defending his son who is accused of mowing down four farmers by running his SUV over them. Meanwhile, after intense public pressure built up and a serious intervention of the Supreme Court, Ashish Mishra was arrested and is in judicial custody. But nobody has an answer as to why his father is continuing in the Modi cabinet.
The very presence of Ajay Mishra in the Central cabinet is indicative of the rot which has affected our political system. When Modi took over the reins of the country, people had expectations that he would cleanse the system and the criminal-politician nexus would be broken and ethical politics would reassert its primacy; idealism, and not ideology, would define Indian democracy but alas, such dreams proved to be just dreams and in hindsight, it seems that a smokescreen was created by effective propaganda with the purpose of capturing power.
Perception over reality
In politics, perception is more important than reality. Most of the time, truth takes a backseat and propaganda dominates the discourse. In the last few years, false narratives have been churned out on an industrial scale. Every attempt is made with the active connivance of the media, especially television, to falsify reality. Otherwise, it was impossible that a man of Ajay Mishra’s criminal credentials would be made a minister and yet, none of the TV anchors would ask questions.
Long ago, when the United Front government led by H D Deve Gowda appointed Mohd Taslimuddeen as the minister of state for home affairs under the legendary Left leader, Indrajit Gupta, the media and the opposition created such a ruckus that he had to resign. Even Indrajit Gupta refused to attend office. Like Ajay Mishra, Taslimuddeen had serious cases against him. Ajay Mishra was once declared a history sheeter by the local police, a charge that was dubiously quashed by a judge who pronounced the judgment a day before his retirement.
One can gauge his grip over the judicial process from the fact that in a case of murder, the Allahabad High Court has not pronounced the judgment for the last three years that was reserved in 2018. Should the Prime Minister not be asked why a history sheeter and a murder accused was made minister? Is there such a dearth of political talent in the BJP that there was no one more suitable than him?
Now, it appears that he was not appointed minister for administrative talent but for other reasons. His ‘other’ talent was on full display when he threatened farmers with dire consequences. While addressing party workers, he brazenly said that they should remember his past before he became an MP and a minister and those creating trouble would be thrown out of Lakhimpur.
In a state where a Dr Kafeel Khan was arrested for making a non-existent provocative statement in Aligarh and was tortured in jail for nine months; where a young kid was arrested for writing on a social media about the lack of oxygen during the second wave of Covid; where a journalist was put behind bars for exposing bungling in the mid-day meal; where a Siddique Kappan is still rotting in jail, his crime being that he was going to report on Hathras for his paper, in that very state, Ajay Mishra roams free after intimidating people.
Ideally, in a democracy, such leaders should not have any place but if he is being mentored by supremely powerful seniors then why should he bother? When the Constitution is subverted daily, and rule of law is selectively used to terrorise political opponents, then why should the son of the powerful minister hesitate to run over farmers? He could do so because he was confident that the long arm of the law would not reach him. His belief in the ‘system’ was not misplaced.
His father, who swore to abide by the Constitution, was out to protect his son. In the eyes of the law, Ajay Mishra could have been booked after the Lakhimpur incident for three obvious offences: for harbouring a criminal, manufacturing the evidence to save his son and misleading the police investigation.
Misleading investigative agencies
Let’s not forget that his son was listed as the prime accused in the FIR filed after the incident. His son was accused of murder and police was looking for him to arrest him. The son lived with his father. And the father, who because of his position as minister, is supposed to lead and supervise the same investigative agencies, did not bother to hand him over to police but rather, brazenly concocted stories to tell the world that his son was not responsible for the incident and had been somewhere else. This is an obvious case of misleading the investigative agencies and destroying evidence, which in the eyes of the law Is a serious offence. Ideally, he should also be arrested.
The Supreme Court was right when on the demand that the case be handed over to the CBI, the CJI commented that it couldn’t, for ‘obvious reasons and persons’. The nation’s highest court was hinting that an honest investigation was not possible if the father was the minister of state for home affairs. Despite this observation, he continues as a minister.
The Supreme Court was proved right when police felt pressured to act due to the court taking cognizance of the matter but instead of arresting the minister’s son, they pasted a notice at the residence of the minister. What was more bizarre was that the son was not summoned by the police as an ‘accused’ but as a ‘witness’. Legally, any accused who is facing charges punishable for more than seven years is not summoned for interrogation but is arrested immediately for the interrogation. In this case the minister’s son was accused of murder, and yet he was not arrested immediately but was summoned.
When the Supreme Court asked eminent lawyer Harish Salve, who was representing the Uttar Pradesh government why he was not arrested, but instead summoned, Salve was left fumbling for words. The CJI categorically asked, “Is it the same procedure followed in the case of murder across the country?” Salve had no answer! Why should it not be assumed that this was done at the behest of the minister?
A police officer of the rank of DIG, who was supervising the investigation, can’t be so oblivious of the law that he did not know under which section of the CrPC Ashish Mishra was to be summoned. This was a serious attempt to disrupt the investigation. And most surprisingly, all along the chief minister kept saying that law would not discriminate and strict action would be taken. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Union home minister of the country have spoken a word about the incident.
There is no doubt that the son is primarily responsible for the horrific incident but was he alone in the crime? If the father had not been so influential and had not made provocative statements, if the son was not confident of the clout of his father in the power structure, he would not have dared to commit such a crime, as he did, because he knew, that the long arm of the law would not catch him.
One must not forget that the manner in which the farmers' movement has been demonised by the BJP and the government, the kind of hatred generated against the agitation also has a bearing on a section of the people. It is in this context that it is difficult to assume that a fair investigation will take place, the trial will move smoothly and justice will be served.
This case is a prime example of the way our democracy functions and the lustre it has lost over a period of time. Yes, it is the largest democracy, but it is no longer vibrant.
The writer is author of ‘Hindu Rashtra’ and Editor, SatyaHindi.com