The clumsy investigation by the Uttar Pradesh police into the gory incident at Lakhimpur Kheri which left eight persons dead, could have serious ramifications on the state Assembly polls early next year. In fact, it could adversely affect the BJP which has been power for the past over four and half years and allow its opponents to make a comeback.
The manner in which the state administration and police have acted in the aftermath of the gruesome murder and consequent lynching, has even made the Apex Court to take cognisance of the matter. It is evident that the police have not been able to uphold the rule of law and seem to have gone slow on the probe since it involves the son of a senior politician and BJP Minister of State for Home.
However, given the kind of publicity the entire episode has got in the media and the release of more than half a dozen videos providing an insight into the sequence of events, it is difficult for the police or the government to cover up the crime and present a different narrative.
The UP government has announced a probe by a retired judge and has given him two months to submit his report, The Opposition in the meanwhile has been repeatedly demanding that there should be an inquiry either monitored by the Supreme Court or by a sitting judge.
Some of the opposition parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party have even demanded the imposition of President’s Rule in the state on the plea that there has been a complete breakdown of law and order. Instances including the killing of a businessman in Gorakhpur are being cited to demonstrate how the rule of law was not being upheld by the current administration.
The police have registered a case of murder and have named the Union Minister’s son. The minister himself has admitted that the Thar jeep which mowed down protesting farmers was registered in his name. From the point of view of any kind of investigation, the son, even if he is proven to be innocent in a court of law later, should have been taken into custody and questioned. Had that been done, the opposition parties would never have been able to point fingers at the police.
Secondly, where was the need for the police to stop Priyanka Gandhi Vadra and her associates from travelling to Lakhimpur Kheri? She is general secretary in charge of the party that had managed to win a single Lok Sabha seat from UP in the last Parliamentary election. However, her being prevented and then being wrongfully confined in a guest house has given the Congress some hope of bouncing back in the political arena.
Priyanka’s detention and the manner in which Deependra Hooda, a Rajya Sabha MP, were manhandled by the police was highly objectionable. Under the law, no woman can be placed under arrest after sunset or before sunrise. In the event of a formal arrest, the accused has to be produced within 24 hours before a magistrate, something which did not happen in this case.
Justice Madan Lokur, retired judge of the Supreme Court described the detention totally illegal and stated that it was fit case for the top court of the land to take cognisance. Above all, Priyanka was not provided access to her lawyer, though she gave interviews to TV channels, while being in detention. Those under arrest are denied access to cell phones but no such thing happened in this instance.
What was equally appalling was when Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel landed in Lucknow, he was stopped at the airport. Under what law can you prevent a citizen of the country from entering the city where nothing had happened?
This is another matter that the UP administration relented subsequently and permitted Rahul Gandhi, Priyanka, Baghel and his Punjab counterpart Charanjit Singh Channi to travel to Lakhimpur Kheri.
Political observers were quick to speculate on how Priyanka had overshadowed other opposition leaders during this episode with some of them wondering whether this was done to ensure that Akhilesh Yadav, considered to be the main challenger of the current dispensation, was kept away from the limelight. Yes, Priyanka indeed had taken advantage of the faux pas by the police and administration and made the headlines for almost a week. Whether this would reap political dividends for the Congress is extremely difficult to say at this point of time.
Another political aspect that was noticed by political observers was that Prashant Kishor, who has been playing the friend, philosopher and guide to many opposition leaders, was not spotted with the Gandhis, leading to conjectures that he was finally out of the Congress. Instead, he had facilitated Sushmita Dev, now a TMC Rajya Sabha MP to visit Lakhimpur Kheri on day one itself.
The UP Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath who did not make any comments for the past few days has now hit out at Priyanka and has stated that she performed the political stunts to keep herself relevant and predicted that the Congress would be shown its place when the elections take place.
The mowing down of the farmers by the minister’s jeep also indicates that the peasants’ agitation was not going to end in the near future. In fact, it has made the kisans even more determined to press their demands. The consequences would be visible during the poll outcome. Between us.