The Allahabad High Court has granted bail to Lakhimpur Kheri massacre accused Ashish Mishra on February 10, 2022. This happened on the same day that the first phase of the Assembly elections began in Uttar Pradesh, especially when several farmer-dominated constituencies are going to polls. Farmer leaders expressed great anger in the farming community on receiving this news, while survivors of the October 3, 2021 incident voiced fear for their lives.
Son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra, Ashish was accused of mowing down and killing four farmers and one local journalist in Tikonia village of Lakhimpur Kheri district. After a week-long delay in his arrest, the main accused repeatedly tried to get bail. The same was repeatedly rejected until Thursday when the Lucknow Bench finally granted the same.
According to LiveLaw, Ashish’s legal representative argued that he was not present at the event when the killings occurred, but was instead attending a Dangal function four kilometres away. Senior Counsel G.D. Chaturvedi said that even if the same was proved to be false, the complainant Jagjeet Singh said Ashish was sitting beside the driver and not in control of the Mahindra Thar vehicle.
Further, he said there is no evidence that proves Ashish ordered the driver to mow down the farmers. Chaturvedi said that even if the killing was proved to be a deliberate act, it cannot be linked to Ashish. Despite the complainant’s query of how a driver could disobey the orders of his employer – the son of an influential Minister – the Court eventually allowed Ashish’s bail.
The order may be read here:
SKM and farmer reactions
Ever since the massacre, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) across India repeatedly demanded the sacking of Union Minister Ajay Mishra, but that has not happened yet and is unlikely to in future as well. After this latest development, SKM leader Hannan Mollah called the bail a tactic of the ruling regime to get Brahmin votes.
“This bail is a judgement but not justice. Farmers will look at this as the miscarriage of justice. The SIT in its report said the killings were a conspiracy. If so, the culprits should be identified and punished. Instead, on the first day of UP election, the BJP got him bail because they need him for Brahmin votes,” said Mollah.
He referred to a detailed report by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) that acknowledged the October 3 incident as a planned attack not a chance accident. At the time, the Supreme Court had already criticised the SIT for dragging its feet on the whole issue.
On Thursday, Mollah said the Yogi Adityanath-led government has once again saved the main accused – this time with judicial protection! According to Mollah, farmers had demanded Mishra’s removal from the Union Cabinet for this very reason. “Mishra is still in Cabinet despite our demands. Now, the BJP will argue that their Minister is good and his son has been given bail by the court,” said Mollah.
Building this further, SKM leader Ashish Mittal called the decision “anti-people” and “anti-poor”. He condemned the release of the accused who was inside the alleged vehicle while people falsely arrested for their role in the Bhima-Koregaon case are kept in jail for years. “This is a sad reflection on the judiciary. The farmers movement will take their demands forward but this erodes their faith in the judicial system,” said Mittal.
Meanwhile, the survivors of the incident now claim to be living in a state of fear after hearing the news. One survivor* who can be seen in the video recording the “mowing down” said that the government is responsible for what happens to the farmers from now on.
“If he [Ashish] gets bail and then something happens to us then it is now the government’s responsibility. We have no protection, we did not even get court orders,” he said.
According to experts, the farming community will have an influential role in the UP elections. Preliminary talks with ground-level farmers in western UP has already shown a growing anger against the ruling regime for failing on their promises. The failure to sack Minister Mishra and this recent bail only adds to the farmers’ ire.
*Name withheld upon request to protect identity.