Lucknow: The UP government grappled on Monday with the aftermath of violence during a farmers protest in Lakhimpur Kheri, lodging a case against Union minister Ajay Mishra's son, promising a probe by a retired high court judge, and stopping opposition leaders from reaching the trouble spot.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra was detained in Sitapur on her way to Lakhimpur Kheri, where eight people died and several others were injured on Sunday in the bloodiest clash since the farmers' protest over the Centre agri laws began last year.
Four of the dead were farmers, allegedly knocked down by vehicles driven by BJP workers travelling to welcome Uttar Pradesh Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya.
The others were BJP workers and their driver, allegedly pulled out of the vehicles and then lynched by the protesters. Two cars were set on fire.
As opposition leaders headed to the Lakhimpur Kheri's Tikonia village, about 225 km from Lucknow, the Uttar Pradesh authorities clamped Section 144 of the CrPC, which bans the assembly of more than four people, in the district.
Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, his Punjab counterpart Charanjit Singh Channi, BSP's SC Mishra and AAP's Sanjay Singh were among those prevented by the state authorities from reaching Lakhimpur.
Protesters burnt a police jeep outside Gautam Palli police station near Akhilesh Yadav's home when he was stopped from going to Lakhimpur.
The violence briefly figured in the Supreme Court as a three-judge bench said it would examine if organisations which have challenged the validity of a law are allowed to hold a protest on it when the matter is sub-judice. The bench said when such incidents happen, nobody takes responsibility.
In Lakhimpur Kheri, Additional Director General (Law and Order) Prashant Kumar announced that the government will order a probe headed by a retired high court judge and give compensation of Rs 45 lakh each to the families of the dead farmers. The kin will also get a government job and the injured will get Rs 10 lakh. The announcement in the presence of Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait seemed to end the standoff with the farmer unions, which then allowed the post-mortem of the four victims.
Police also registered a murder case against Ashish Mishra, son of Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra, and several others over the death of the farmers. The minister, who is an MP from the area, has denied allegation by the farmers' unions that his son was in one of the cars. Mishra said he has evidence to show that his son was at an event being held elsewhere.
According to his version, a vehicle toppled after protesters pelted stones at it. It collapsed on two farmers.
Four occupants of the BJP cars were then pulled out and beaten to death. Some video clips showed men lying on the ground, and being hit with lathis.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of farm unions, wrote to President Ram Nath Kovind, demanding that the minister should be sacked. It also sought an investigation by an SIT under the supervision of the Supreme Court.
The RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh demanded the harshest punishment for those involved in the violence, saying people from various political parties were behind it. “The people involved in the incident were not farmers; they belonged to various political parties. The incident was carried out using leftist methods. People were mercilessly beaten to death with sticks, something farmers cannot do,” a BKS statement said.
The incident comes just months ahead of the assembly polls in the politically vital state.
Priyanka Gandhi, who recently spent several days in the state discussing poll preparations, was back in Lucknow at 5 am on Sunday, only to be detained on the road to Lakhimpur Kheri. Videos showed her lashing out at the police for allegedly misbehaving with her and her colleagues. “The BJP government is doing the politics of crushing the farmers and finishing them,” she said on Twitter.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted in Hindi, “Priyanka, I know that you will not retreat. They fear your courage. We will ensure that the country's annadatas win this non-violent fight for justice.” The Congress also staged protests in the national capital. There were farmer protests in Punjab and Haryana as well.
In Lucknow, SP's Akhilesh Yadav told reporters, “We want the arrest of the minister and his son in the Lakhimpur incident.” Bahujan Samaj Party general secretary SC Mishra was also detained at his home in Lucknow on Sunday night. Party supremo Mayawati demanded a judicial probe into the violence. AAP's Sanjay Singh was also barred from going to Lakhimpur and so were Congress leaders Salman Kurshid and Pramod Tiwari.
The Uttar Pradesh government asked airport authorities in Lucknow to not allow Chhattisgarh CM Baghel and his Punjab counterpart Channi, who had announced plans to visit Lakhimpur Kheri.
Uttar Pradesh government spokesperson and cabinet minister Sidharth Nath Singh termed the opposition move to go to Lakhimpur a political stunt aimed at vitiating the peace.
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