An eyewitness to the sequence of events that led to the carnage in Lakhimpur Kheri, on 3 October, told The Caravan that he saw Ashish Mishra’s car run down Raman Kashyap, a journalist who was among those killed. Anil Kumar Maurya, also a journalist, is the Bahraich district head for the news channel The Dastak 24. Anil said that he was standing right next to Kashyap, exchanging visiting cards with him, when a black SUV with Ashish, locally referred to as “Monu bhaiyya,” plowed through the crowd of farmers from behind, then lost control and veered off the road into the fields. As he narrated the incident, Anil also said that after the black SUV lost control and plunged into the fields, while the enraged farmers pulled out the driver, another farmer, later identified as Gurvinder Singh, caught hold of Ashish, who was trying to make his way through the sugarcane fields. It was at this moment, Anil said, that he heard gun shots and saw Gurvinder collapse, even as the police helped Ashish escape.
“The crux is that Raman Kashyap was mowed down and killed by Monu Mishra’s car,” Anil said. According to him, “The atmosphere before this whole episode was so light and safe, with the tired farmers returning home after the peacefully waving black flags.” He said that the gathered crowd, including journalists, did not “suspect or perceive even the slightest of possibility of violence.”
While the state police filed a first information on the incident on 4 October, which named Ashish as an accused along with “15-20 unknown persons,” Ashish is yet to be arrested. The FIR has been registered under eight sections of the Indian Penal Code, including section 302, which pertains to murder, and section 304-A, regarding death by negligence. On 7 October, the police issued a notice to Ashish under Section 160 of the code of criminal procedure, which deals with attendance of witnesses, and asked him to appear at the Tikunia Police Station on 8 October. Legal experts have raised questions about how an accused in a murder case has been summoned under this section. Ashish ignored this summon and did not turn up. The police then issued a similar notice on 8 October, and asked Ashish to present himself the next day. According to NDTV, on 9 October, Ashish arrived for questioning at the Tikunia station, escorted by several police officials. The Caravan reached out to the superintendent of police of Lakhimpur Kheri, Vijay Dhull, and the additional SP Arun Kumar, neither of whom responded to calls or text messages.
Anil told me that on 3 October, he had gone to Lakhimpur Kheri’s Banveerpur village to cover a wrestling event at the house of the union minister of state for home affairs, Ajay Mishra Teni—Ashish’s father and a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. “I reached the house of Ajay Mishra Teni at around 12 pm, and was present at the dangal being organised at the house till 1.30 or so. There were three or four more journalist friends along with me.” Anil added that the deputy chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, “Keshav Prasad Maurya was supposed to land at the helipad at around 2.15 pm. And I reached the ground at around this time. Farmers with black flags were standing along the sides of the road.” The helipad is at Tikunia village, around five to seven kilometres from Banveerpur. Maurya and eight other members of the legislative assembly were expected to reach the helipad and then make their way to Banveerpur.
As The Caravan had reported earlier, the genesis of the black flag protest lay in another incident a few days before 3 October. Teni had been shown black flags by protesting farmers at another event in the district’s Palia town. Offended by the black flags, Teni then gave a threatening speech: “Sudhar jao, nahi toh hum aapko sudhaar denge, do minute lagega keval”—You better mend your ways, or we will teach you a lesson, it will only take a couple of minutes. Consequently, farmers decided to escalate their black flag protest, this time at the helipad on 3 October. Anil said that “the farmers had not come to create a ruckus, that was not the mood of the gathering.”