WITH UNION MoS Ajay Mishra’s son remanded in police custody over the Lakhimpur Kheri incident for which he is facing murder charges, the BJP is rallying behind the Minister with senior leaders pointing out that he has denied his son’s involvement and that UP Police have not found any evidence to indicate otherwise.
With Opposition parties stepping up their demand for Mishra’s resignation, BJP sources told The Indian Express that the party is awaiting progress on the police investigation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will take a call once the police complete their probe, they said.
On Monday, Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish Mishra was remanded in police custody for three days by a court in Lakhimpur Kheri over the incident on October 3 when a convoy of vehicles, including one owned by the Minister, hit a group of farm protesters, killing four farmers.
One of the protesters has alleged in a complaint to police, based on which an FIR was registered, that Ashish Mishra was driving one of the vehicles. “If there is evidence that shows his involvement in the incident, the top leadership will take a decision. The party will not come under pressure just because Opposition parties are demanding his resignation,” said a senior BJP functionary.
Sources said the party has assessed that the incident is not likely to have a major impact on its prospects in the UP assembly elections early next year. “However, the party’s final decision will be taken on the basis of the progress of the investigation,” said a leader.
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In court Monday, UP Police’s Special Investigation Team (SIT) in the Lakhimpur Kheri case sought custody of Ashish Mishra for 14 days after arresting him late Saturday for “not cooperating with the probe”.
Sources told The Indian Express that the SIT had prepared a “long questionnaire” for Ashish but “he did not respond to most of the questions”. “Ashish Mishra gave replies to about 40 questions during 12 hours of questioning on Sunday,” said a state government official.
Sources said the SIT will “confront” him with witnesses and question him on allegations of criminal conspiracy. The SIT also wants to ascertain the identity of all those who were in the three vehicles that hit the protesters, they said. In the violence that followed the incident, the Minister’s driver and two BJP workers were killed. A journalist was also among those who died.
A senior officer said police personnel present in the area are being questioned.
On Monday, the court proceedings were conducted over videoconference, with the police saying that they needed custody to collect evidence and interrogate the accused further.
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“After hearing both sides, the Chief Judicial Magistrate ordered Ashish Mishra to be sent for three days’ police custody remand. The court has allowed lawyers of the accused to watch the process (interrogation) from a distance so that no disturbance is caused,” Prosecuting Officer S P Yadav said.
“Police sought custody on the ground that my client was not cooperating in the probe. We objected because the agency did not produce any evidence against my client,” defence counsel Awadesh Kumar Singh said.
In Delhi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah met Union Minister for Law and Justice Kiren Rijijju and Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister P K Mishra in North Block. BJP leaders, however, denied suggestions that the meeting was held to discuss the Lakhimpur Kheri incident.
The Congress, meanwhile, staged “silent sit-in” protests and demonstrations demanding the resignation of Ajay Mishra. CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury also sought the removal of Mishra from the Government, saying “justice will not be served with his continuation as minister”.
As for the elections, senior leaders of the BJP in UP met national leaders in charge of the state to discuss strategy. Sources said the party will first focus on 100 constituencies where it had either lost earlier or has been losing ground. Monday’s meeting also finalised the BJP’s campaign for the next 100 days, including 100 programmes in these constituencies at the booth and mandal levels.
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The meeting was held by party chief J P Nadda and national general secretary (organisation) B L Santhosh. It was attended by Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan, the election in-charge; former Union minister Radha Mohan Singh, the state in-charge; Swatantra Dev Singh, BJP’s UP chief; and Sunil Bansal, general secretary (organisation, UP).