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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Sparks that ignited Lakhimpur Kheri violence: MoS’s speech to car that ran over protesters

Lakhimpur Kheri: The video shows a group of protesters moving forward on a road next to farm fields and then being mowed down by a grey SUV that speeds up from behind. One man is thrown up over the bonnet before the vehicle speeds away, leaving a jumble of bodies on the side of the road.

Written by Asad Rehman , Maulshree Seth , Manish Sahu | Lakhimpur Kheri, Lucknow |
Updated: October 5, 2021 10:51:37 am
Farmers during a protest in Lakhimpur (Express photo/Vishal Srivastav)

It lasts just 29 seconds. But each chilling frame captures the horror of UP’s Lakhimpur Kheri on Sunday afternoon when three SUVs, including one owned by Union MoS Ajay Mishra, ploughed through a group of protesting farmers, killing four of them.

The video shows a group of protesters moving forward on a road next to farm fields and then being mowed down by a grey SUV that speeds up from behind. One man is thrown up over the bonnet before the vehicle speeds away, leaving a jumble of bodies on the side of the road.

The video was posted on Twitter Monday by Tractor to Twitter, an account that describes itself as a “campaign to support protesting farmers on social media against the farm bills”. Four others were killed in the violence triggered by this incident.

On the ground, The Indian Express spoke to several eyewitnesses who described scenes that, they said, will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Farm leaders, local residents and sources in UP Police told The Indian Express that this was a “flare-up” waiting to happen after days of bubbling tension sparked by “provocative” gestures and remarks by Union MoS Mishra aimed at farmers protesting against the Centre’s new agriculture laws.

vehicle set ablaze after violence broke out after farmers agitating were allegedly run over by a vehicle in the convoy of a union minister, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (PTI Photo)

“The vehicles drove in a zigzag manner. One of them was driven by Ashish Mishra (the son of Union MoS Mishra). The vehicles crushed the farmers, killing several of them. Our leader Tejender Singh Virk was dragged by the cars for a long distance. Some got stuck under the cars, but the vehicles didn’t stop. I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Gurmeet Singh, a farmer from Lakhimpur Kheri, who was among the group of protesters.

“The Minister’s son realised that he may get caught, so he shot one of the farmers and fled,” said Dilbagh Singh, a farm leader who was present. “Ashish Mishra did not expect such a crowd and tried to escape, resulting in the incident,” said a senior police officer, who spoke to The Indian Express on condition of anonymity.

Detailing the sequence, farm leaders and police sources pointed to the Minister’s visit to Lakhimpur Kheri — his parents hail from Banveerpur village in the district — last week. They said he “showed the thumbs-down” to some farm protesters who had gathered. The situation escalated, they said, when a purported video soon started doing the rounds of the Minister mocking and challenging the protesters.

lakhimpur news, up news Families mourn the deaths of farmers who lost their lives at the Lakhimpur incident in UP on Sunday. (Express Photo by Vishal Srivastave)

“Yeh desh kisanon ka desh hai. Hum bhi kisan hai, aap bhi kisan hain…Agar hum utar bhi jaate to unko bhagne ka raasta nahin milta.. Peeth-piche kaam karne wale log…Aise 10-15 log shor machate hain… poorey desh mein phail jana chahiye tha agar krishi kanoon kharab hota (This country is of farmers. I am also a farmer, you are also a farmer… If I got down to action then they would not have even found a way to run away. There are about 10-15 people, who work behind your back… if the farm laws were bad, the protests would have spread across the country),” Mishra is heard saying in the video.

Warning the protesters, he is heard saying: “Aise logon ko kehna chahta hun ki sudhar jao, nahin to samna karwake hum aapko sudhaar denge, do minute lagega sirf (I want to say to such people to ‘mend your ways’, otherwise I will make them face me and set them right in two minutes).”

“It was this threat from the Minister during his visit to the Pallia area on September 25 that angered us,” said Dilbagh Singh, who heads the Lucknow division of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU).

In the days that followed, police sources said, tensions rose as an FIR was registered against Harjeet Singh, a 25-year-old Sikh youth for allegedly posting objectionable comments against Mishra in response to the speech. “All of this set the stage for the protest on October 3 against a visit by Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya for an event at Banveerpur,” the police officer said.

Police sources said their local intelligence unit had alerted the district administration and senior officers about the protest against Maurya. “There must have been some input after which force was deployed at the spot where the farmers were protesting,” said ADGP (Lucknow zone), S N Sabat.

“We were expecting Maurya’s helicopter to land on a local ground and got ready with black flags there. Around 2.30 pm, we were told that Maurya would come in a car and won’t be crossing the ground, so we decided to end the programme,” said Gurmeet Singh, the protester.

Farmers protest after two of the agitators were allegedly run over by a vehicle in the convoy of a union minister, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021. (PTI Photo)

“That was when the three SUVs sped out from Banveerpur. One of the cars belonged to Minister Mishra’s representative Deepak Talwar, another to Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra, and the third was new with no number plate. After they ran over our people, they realised that they had been surrounded by farmers. The Minister’s son ran away through the fields nearby, and managed to escape,” said Inderpal Singh, a farmer from the Pallia area who was part of the protest against Maurya.

Asked about the violence that followed in which four others were killed, including the Minister’s driver, Inderpal said: “How do you deal with such goondas? There was so much anger among the people after what happened. I can’t say whether it was right or wrong, but what do you do when someone runs over your brothers, killing four of them?” Officials confirmed that farm leader Virk was seriously injured.

“The protesters indulged in vandalism and beat up some people, resulting in four other deaths. According to preliminary reports, the violence lasted for about half-an-hour,” the senior police officer said. Police have also denied reports of firing at the site.

Speaking to The Indian Express Sunday, Mishra had denied that his son was driving the vehicle. “It was his driver who was driving. As stones were pelted at the vehicle, it overturned and two farmers came under it,” he had said.

Farmers with mortal remains of their family members who were killed in the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri. (PTI Photo)

“My party workers were going to receive the Deputy CM when some assailants, who were among the farmers, attacked them with sticks and swords. Three party workers and a car driver died in the attack. They destroyed the vehicle and set it ablaze,” he had said.

Asked about his provocative speech, the Lakhimpur Kheri MP had said: “It is false that I targeted farmers. If anyone sees the entire speech, it will be clear that I was talking about assailants hiding among the farmers.”

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