Why Teni’s continuation in office negates the idea of a fair probe in Lakhimpur deaths

Ajay Mishra Teni, a minister of state for home affairs, calls on the Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his official residence on 7 July 2021. In October, days after Teni gave a speech threatening those protesting the 2020 farm laws, a convoy with his son allegedly mowed down protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. Many opposition leaders from different parties have questioned Teni’s continuation in the office and asked the prime minister to remove him. But even three months after the incident, Modi has kept mum. PIB
31 December, 2021

The accused in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri incident were “at large roaming scot-free” because they “wielded the thunderbolt of police power through political clout,” Shiv Kumar Tripathi, a lawyer, submitted in an application before the Supreme Court on 8 November. Tripathi had earlier submitted an application in the Supreme Court as well, as a result of which the apex court began monitoring the case. The prime accused in the case is Ashish Mishra, the son of Ajay Mishra Teni, a minister of state for home affairs in Narendra Modi’s cabinet. Days after the minister gave a speech threatening those protesting the 2020 farm laws, a convoy with his son allegedly mowed down protesting farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri. While the first-information report in the case said that the incident was a result of a “planned conspiracy” by both Teni and his son, it only named Ashish as an accused. In his 8 November submission to the Supreme Court, Tripathi wrote that Teni—who he described as the “main accused/culprit”—deserved to be subjected to legal action for his “complicity in the said murder.”
Tripathi said that the probe would not be “impartial” if Teni continued to be a minister. He was not the only one who believed this. Many opposition leaders from different parties have questioned Teni’s continuation in the office and asked the prime minister to remove him. Even the parliament has seen protests demanding the same. But even three months after the incident, Modi has kept mum. His silence on Teni continues even after the withdrawal of the farm laws that primarily underpinned the plot for the 3 October farmers’ protest at Lakhimpur Kheri.

It is the sphere of influence that comes with Teni’s ministerial post that raises concerns about the probe in the case. Government press releases and posts on social media since the carnage itself demonstrate that as a minister, Teni has easy access to anyone from state police chiefs and the union home secretary, to intelligence officers. In fact, Teni’s chair demands subordination from officials who have the power to investigate the incident. This in itself may not be enough to say if he has misused his chair to pivot the investigation in his favour, but it certainly casts a doubt on the integrity of the probe. Apart from this, the ruling party’s state and union leadership, aided by a pliant media, appears to be tilting the narrative around the incident in Teni’s favour, brazenly   mischaracterising the protesting farmers and the facts of the case.

Multiple events over the course of over three months have only increased such doubts about the probe. For instance, on Teni’s second police remand, he was to be cross questioned with seven other accused. But, before that could happen, he was shifted to the hospital on health grounds. Around the same time, Upendra Agrawal, the chief of the special-investigation team probing the matter, was also transferred to a different police range without the court’s permission.

The Supreme Court’s orders in the case so far suggest that it shares some of these concerns. On 17 November, it appointed a former high court judge without “roots in the state” to monitor the investigation, which was till then being led by a SIT that predominantly comprised local police. The judges also ordered the government to upgrade its local investigating team with three more officers from the Indian Police Service who did not hail from Uttar Pradesh. While the Supreme Court expressed its concern on the “slow pace, manner and outcome of the investigation” that day, it refrained from naming anyone who or whatever caused so. Tripathi told me, “If Teni is not questioned, we will consider the probe as incomplete and move another application to the Supreme Court pleading an order for questioning Teni.”


As one of the three ministers of state for home affairs, Teni is only next to Amit Shah in the ranks of the ministry of home affairs. India’s entire central armed police forces, internal intelligence agencies and disaster management forces fall under the jurisdiction of the ministry. The MHA has a police division which, among other things, acts as a performance assessor of members of the Indian Police Service. Since the incident, he has held several official meetings with police  and intelligence officers who, if they want, can easily swing an investigation in his favour.

One of the starkest of examples was Teni being one of the guests at the national conference of director generals of police and the inspector generals of police that was held at the Uttar Pradesh’s police headquarters in Lucknow on 20 and 21 November. DGPs are the highest-ranking police officers in a state and in-charge of the state’s entire police force. IGs are the second in command. The attendees included a total of 62 DGPs and IGPs from across India. Around four hundred officers of various ranks from the Intelligence Bureau also joined the conference virtually.

The guests were Modi, Shah, national security advisor Ajit Doval, the director of the Intelligence Bureau Arvind Kumar, and the home secretary Ajay Bhalla. On 20 November, Priyanka Gandhi and Varun Gandhi—the state-in-charges of the Congress and BJP, respectively—had both written to the prime minister asking for action against Teni. Modi remained unfazed; he went ahead with the conference, although he did not share the dais with Teni. Pictures posted on social media—on a Facebook account called Ajay Mishr Teni—showed Teni, Nisith Pramanik and Nityananda Rai, the other MoSes in the union home ministry, sitting on a sofa. Shah was seated on a sofa next to them. In one of the pictures, Teni stood on a podium and could be seen saluting  to the policemen.

Here, it is pertinent to flag that following the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, the government tried to maintain peace on the ground through senior police officials. An IGP and an additional DGP, both from the Lucknow Range, were also on ground to ensure “strict vigil,” according to a status report the state government filed before the apex court. The government wrote that “under the supervision of IGP, PHQ”—police headquarters—it had deployed, nine additional superintendents of police, 11 deputy superintendents of police, 20 station-house officers, two companies of the Rapid Action Force and 200 constables, among other personnel, on the ground.

Soon after an SIT was formed to investigate the case, Akhilesh Yadav, the opposition leader, pointed out the dilemma the cops would have to face while standing up to a cabinet minister who had authority over them. “Allegations are levelled against the union minister of state for home affairs and his son,” Yadav told journalists, “Somebody please make me understand, if a police official goes to the house of the minister of state for home affairs to investigate, then he will have to first salute the minister of state for home affairs. And an official who salutes him, how will he probe the minister’s family?’” The same week, Rahul Gandhi, also tweeted, “By not sacking this minister, the BJP is obstructing the process of justice.” Farmers’ union leader Rakesh Tikait has reiterated several times that Teni should face of Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code, which pertains to criminal conspiracy, and that he will influence the probe against him. The farmers even called for “Rail Roko”—protest by stopping trains—to demand Teni’s resignation.

But the union government did not just let Teni stay in the office, it appears to stand firmly behind him. On 29 October, Shah shared the stage with Teni, the chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht and the state’s party president Swatantr Dev Singh during a political rally held in Lucknow to ask the BJP’s workers to organise membership drives in their respective areas. Since Bisht also keeps the state’s home portfolio with him, the Uttar Pradesh Police will likely have to pass any file regarding the Lakhimpur Kheri case through him.  

Earlier, on 21 October, Teni was again one of the main guests at a tribute ceremony at the National Police Memorial in New Delhi. He sat along with his fellow MoS, Rai; the IB director, Kumar; the union home secretary, Bhalla; and the Delhi police commissioner, Rakesh Asthana. The Modi government had built  the memorial, a monolithic slab of granite stone, built in October 2018 to honour policemen who died in line of duty. Different police units organise their own memorial there at least once a year. Two days later, on 23 October, Border Security Force, which functions under the union home ministry, organised its own tribute ceremony at the memorial. Here, too, Teni was the chief guest. Apart from public events, Teni also participated in home ministry meetings. 

It is worth mentioning here that the Intelligence Bureau and union home secretary directly report to the union home ministry, which would make Teni—and the two other MoSs—their boss after Shah. Even though policing is a state subject, the top posts, such as director generals of police, inspector generals of police and for majority of superintendents of police, of each state police are provided by Indian Police Service. According to the IPS’s website, the police division in the union home ministry is its “cadre controlling authority.” It is responsible for “cadre confirmation, empanelment, deputation, pay and allowances and disciplinary matters” for IPS officers. In addition, the division is also responsible for managing their yearly performance assessment which includes “assessing the performance, character, conduct.” The division is also the one that recommends IPS officers on the basis of their performance for different kinds of medals including ones given by the President of India. So even though top police officials are answerable to their respective state governments, their performance, their growth, rewards, pay and allowances come under the jurisdiction of the union home ministry.

In such a set-up, Teni’s chair has great control over IPS officers, and therefore the state police. The upgraded SIT has five IPS officers including three appointed by the court. However, the court had asked the state government to recommend three such officers to them.

Not just police officials, being the member of parliament representing Kheri, Teni appears to interact with administration officials in the district on a regular basis. In end October, Lakhimpur Kheri saw floods. According to a live video published by the Facebook account of Ajay Mishr Teni, on 7 November, the minister personally got down at Nighasan Tehsil in Lakhimpur Kheri to distribute flood relief materials to the affected families. At the flood relief distribution center, Teni shared the dais with the highest-ranking civil officers of the district where the incident had happened—Rakesh Pathak, the Nighasan tehsildar; Shradha Singh, the deputy district magistrate of Nigashan; and Mahendra Bahadur Singh, the district magistrate. In another live video posted on the account on 2 December, Teni was again seen sharing dais with high-ranking officials of the district administration—from district magistrate and theadditional district magistrate to agricultural officers and officials from agriculture credit institutions—while inaugurating an exhibition of agricultural innovation in Lakhimpur Kheri.


The Lakhimpur Kheri incident has seen a battle of narratives, and there are several questions that remain unanswered about the narrative crafted by Teni and the BJP workers on site that day. But several eyewitness accounts reported in the media since have supported assertions made in the FIR against Ashish, and others, for mowing down farmers.

This FIR was registered around 12 hours after the incident, on 4 October, against a complaint by one of the protesting farmers. The complainant, Jagjit Singh, wrote that the farmers had gathered in Lakhimpur Kheri “to lodge their protest against a threat that Ajay Mishra Teni gave at a public event about ousting the farmers from the district.” Teni had made this comment at a gathering in Palia, a nearby village, days before the carnage. He had said, “Mend your ways or I will mend you. It will only take two minutes.” Teni had added, “I am not just a minister or a parliamentarian. Those who know who I was before I was elected know that I never run away from a challenge.”

After the farmers had lodged their protest against the remark at around 3 pm on 3 October, the FIR said Ashish “came in a convoy of three four-wheelers with 15–20 men, who were armed, at a high speed towards the protesting site from Banbirpur. Ashish Mishra aka Monu, in his Thar Mahindra car, rammed over the crowd while sitting on the left seat and shooting at them.” The FIR said the vehicles lost balance after hitting the farmers and fell in a pit, also leaving several injured. It mentioned that Ashish “fled” from the scene “into the sugarcane field” while firing at the crowd.

Several eyewitness accounts reported in the media have said that Ashish and other accused fired shots during the commotion. While the farmers said that one of the protesters died due to a gunshot wound, two post-mortem reports showed otherwise. But four weapons were seized from the accused, including a rifle and a revolver belonging to Ashish, according to a report submitted by the special investigation team that is probing the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. “The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) report stated that there is evidence of firing on seized weapons during its examinations,” a district government counsel reportedly said.

Sumit Jaiswal, a local BJP councilor who was part of the Teni-linked convoy, filed a counter complaint about the incident. But it is difficult to find any evidence to support his assertions, even three months after the fact. In his complaint, Jaiswal portrayed himself and his colleagues as victims of an unpredicted ambush. He wrote that the protesting farmers attacked the convoy with “sticks and bricks, stones” which injured the front vehicle’s driver on his head, following which he stopped the car on the side. Jaiswal also claimed that the farmers pulled out the driver and started beating him up with “swords and sticks.” After this, other occupants of the car tried to flee, he wrote.

Videos that went viral soon after the incident, however, clearly showed the Thar Mahindra ramming over farmers from behind without any provocation. The FIR against Jaiswal’s complaint is registered against “unknown rioters.” Nevertheless, in the week following the incident, the BJP leadership with the help of news channels often termed as godi media—media which acts as a lapdog of the central government—by protesting farmers floated Jaiswal’s version of events.

The minister’s own narrative about the incident has gone largely unquestioned. About two weeks after the incident, Teni told journalists that the police were responsible for the BJP workers’ deaths. A Hindustan Times report mentioned that Teni “alleged the police didn’t conduct proper recce of the area despite intelligence inputs … no barricades were put on the route.” No such inputs have been reported on so far. This raises another question—when did Teni find out about these inputs? If he was in the know of them before the incident—since the IB also comes under the home ministry—why did his workers head towards the farmers protest in a convoy in the first place?

While the government barred political leaders who wanted to visit the deceased families from the district shortly after the incident, the pro-government news agency ANI gave a platform to Teni, helping him set the narrative around the incident. At around 9.45 pm on 3 October, ANI posted a “Self-made video” of Teni, in which he admitted that he had prior knowledge of the farmers’ gathering against him at Tikonia. Teni said, “We had this knowledge from before that some farmers have been protesting there peacefully and were trying to show black flags. But, it was so that in democracy such protests are normal … While we were reaching to the place, the district administration diverted our route and we were taken to the venue from other side.” Mishra in the video said his party workers were “going to receive them” and when they got to know about “diversion” they “started moving in that direction.” If Teni knew about the protest, his route was diverted and BJP workers knew about it as well, why did the convoy linked to him move towards the protesting farmers?

Teni also mischaracterised the farmers protesting Lakhimpur Kheri, and projected himself and his son as victims. In the video, Teni said “anarchist elements” had joined the farmers protest and blamed them for the carnage. Teni denied his and his son’s presence at the scene of crime. He further said three of his “workers” and his “own driver” were killed. “After the registration of our FIR, I will myself pursue the case till the court and have them punished,” he said. Teni said he will have the FIR registered under 302—a section of the IPC for accusation of murder.

An hour later, at around 11 pm, ANI uploaded another self-made video of Teni. “There were miscreants hidden among the farmers,” he said. “Since the beginning of the farmers’ agitation, many terror outfits like Babbar Khalsa are trying to create chaotic situation in the country … This incident was a result of the same, I think.” Teni blamed a banned outfit even before a FIR was registered in the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. Even three months after the incident, the Babbar Khalsa’s name has not been mentioned anywhere in connection to the investigation in the case, not even by the government’s lawyers. ANI did not cross question Teni’s assertions in the videos. The same night, ANI gave space to Ashish Mishra as well. He blabbered his father’s story: “Some unruly elements … attacked our workers, killed four–five of them. I have not been at the crime scene for two days.” Barring this video, there was no trace of Ashish till 9 October.

In the week after the carnage itself, BJP’s leadership appeared to defend Teni. Referring to the Lakhimpur Kheri deaths, JP Nadda, the BJP’s national president, told  India Today in an interview, “Nobody is above law.” But he immediately made a remark that appeared to favour Teni’s narrative. Nadda said, “A new trend is developing: of dissent. We should think about that too, that is also matter of concern. Many incidents are happening: raah chalte gaadi pe attack ho raha hai”—randomly, a car is being attacked. He quickly added, “I am not referring to this incident.”

Referring to Teni’s remark against the farmers on 25 September in Palia, Bisht said in an interview to News 18, “There’s a difference between political speech and threats.” He added, “An individual tends to make political statements according to one’s country, time and circumstances. It should not be taken seriously.” He also said that many of the opposition leaders who were trying to reach the deceased’s families after the incident “might actually have been involved in the violence and the riot.”

On 4 October, Amit Malviya, the national head of BJP’s IT cell, tweeted that according to the family of one of the deceased workers, the protesting farmers’ leader, Tajinder Singh Virk, had links with Samajwadi Party. “SP and Congress are doing politics in Lakhimpur in the name of protest,” Malviya wrote. Sambit Patra, the BJP’s national spokesperson, and Siddharth Nath Singh, the UP government’s spokesperson and a state cabinet minister, both accused the opposition of using the incident for politics, without commenting on Teni’s involvement in the incident.

Modi’s silence on Lakhimpur Kheri has been conspicuous. A day after the incident, on 5 October, he visited Lucknow for an event to celebrate the 75th year of our Independence. He did not utter a word about the incident, which had taken national media by storm, during the event. Yadav, the Samajwadi Party leader, tweeted, “Uttar Pradesh is in mourning for the murder of farmers. It’s not a time for celebration.” That day, Modi had said, “I liked the idea that experts from all over the country are going to come together and brainstorm on the new urban India.” It was when Modi appreciated the idea of experts coming to Lucknow that political leaders were being stopped from reaching Lakhimpur Kheri.

In the second week of October, in a conversation at the Harvard Kennedy School during an official visit to the US, the finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman was asked about Modi’s silence. Sitharaman said the incident was “condemnable.” But, she also asked her audience to not just raise such issues only “because it’s a state where BJP is in power.” She added, “one of my cabinet colleague’s son is in probably trouble, and also assume that it’s actually them who did it and not anybody else.” By then, the media had reported on witness testimonies against Ashish and Teni’s speech at Palia. Referring to the protesting farmers, Sitharaman also said, “We have not been told what it is they are protesting against as yet and the minister is willing to talk even today.” This was a lie—farmers union had 11 rounds of talks with the government on the issue till January 2021.

Meanwhile, Teni tried to show that the state’s BJP government was being fair in its investigation. “If it was any other political party, they may be, because of my post, even an FIR would have not been registered,” he told journalists on 8 October.

What Teni omitted was that it took 12 hours for the FIR to be registered—these 12 hours saw heavy outrage on social media, as videos of a convoy linked to him ramming through protesting farmers went viral. By no measure was the registration of a FIR a sign of fairness—it only appeared to be a bid to stop vociferous protest, which began shortly after the incident. Farmer unions sitting on the borders of Delhi immediately gave a call for countrywide protests outside all district magistrates’ offices across the country. Protests erupted across Uttar Pradesh—including in Kashi, Prayagraj, Varanasi, Meerut—and even outside, including in Mohali in Punjab; and Shimla in Himachal Pradesh. The Uttar Pradesh government enforced Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, that can restrict assembly of more than four people together in public across the state. It also banned the landing of helicopters for political leaders.

The situation only diffused a little once the administration met some of the demands raised by the deceased farmers’ families, after the intervention of Tikait, the farmer leader. After this, Swantantra Dev Singh, the BJP’s state president, appeared to suggest that he wished the political attention on the matter would go away. He tweeted on 4 October, “An agreement has been reached between the farmers and administration. The political vultures who were looking for an opportunity should return to their air conditioned rooms.”


Through the past three months, the state police and state lawyer in the case have appeared to favour Teni. The state government has only submitted all but one status report regarding the case to the Supreme Court in sealed cover. It is only during the hearings, when questioned by the court, that holes in their investigation were visible.

Tripathi, the petitioner, told me that the state government had shared only its first status report, filed on 7 October, with him. He said he had to depend on the court’s hearings to know the progress in the case. On 8 November, Tripathi raised before the judges that he should be provided with all status reports filed in the case.

The first status report comprised, among other things, details about the death of Raman Kashyap, a 33-year-old journalist. The SIT had included his name in the FIR filed by Jaiswal, the BJP worker. Since the beginning, Kashyap’s family has claimed that he was mowed down by the convoy and not lynched by the farmers. On 8 November,  the government attorney admitted before the Supreme Court that “farmers and the journalist were crushed by the car.” The court noted that the impression it was given was that Kashyap was beaten to death, which aligns with Jaiswal’s narrative. Such a gap was incongruent with Nadda’s 8 October statement that a “professional and scientific investigation” will be done in the Lakhimpur Kheri case.

During the 8 November hearing, one of the justices told the state’s attorney, Harish Salve, “That is the reason why monitoring is required, that innocent journalist, his cause of death was entirely different than what was sought to be projected.” The court said it was appointing a former judge to monitor the investigation to “infuse fairness” and “impartiality” in the matter, and to ensure that “there is no intermixing of the evidences” in the two cases filed for the killings of the farmers and the BJP workers. After going through the latest status report filed by the government, the bench said, “Prima facie, it appears that one particular accused is sought to be given benefit.”

Despite being the prosecutor himself, Salve appears to be siding with the defendants since the beginning of the court hearings. One of the judges asked Salve why only Ashish’s phone was seized. Salve told the court, “Others have said they didn’t have phones.” This is a lie that can be countered from the police’s record itself. Jaiswal, in his FIR, wrote that he had “two mobiles whose numbers were 8081905100/9792189684 and the second phone Samsung A70 didn’t have SIM.” Jaiswal is also an accused in the farmers’ FIR and is currently in judicial custody. 

On 8 October, the court had pointed out that the police had sent Ashish a notice to appear before a police station—even though he had been accused of murder—and not arrested him. Salve replied that the farmers “said there was an allegation of gunshot injury but post mortem didn’t show gunshot injury.” NV Ramana, the chief justice of India who was on the bench, said, “That’s a ground for not taking the accused.”

“Allegation is of 302. Treat him same way we treat other persons in other cases. Not that we have sent notice, please come etc,” Ramana said during the hearing. Salve tried to play down the charge. He replied, “Possibly 302.” The CJI reminded Salve, “There were eye witnesses.” The next day, Ashish surrendered before the police in Lakhimpur Kheri. Later that evening, he was arrested after almost twelve hours of questioning.

On 21 October, the judges asked Salve why of the 44 witnesses as of then, the statement of only four have been recorded before the magistrate. To which, Salve said it was because of Dussehra holidays. The CJI replied, “What is the connection between Dussehra vacation and criminal courts?” The bench said, “We get the impression that you are dragging your feet.” The court wanted the statements recorded before the magistrates sooner because it had more evidentiary value than those recorded before the police.

Other events raised suspicion over the probe as well. On 22 October—after being admonished by the court—the SIT took Ashish on a two-day remand for the second time since his arrest. Ashish along with Ankit Das, Shekhar Bharati and Latif were taken on remand on that evening, a Friday. Since morning, Jaiswal, Sishupal, Satya Prakash Tripathi, and Nandan Singh were already on remand. According to a Hindustan Times report, a senior official part of the investigation “said that Ashish Mishra had not answered many questions when he was previously taken into remand for three days. He said Ashish Mishra and the custody of three others was taken to cross question them in front of four other accused.”  

But Ashish was reportedly sent back to the district jail on Saturday evening for treatment at its healthcare facility. According to a Hindustan Times report, on Sunday morning, the district’s chief medical officer examined Ashish and referred him to the district hospital due to “critical level of sugar” after he was found infected with dengue in two-day police custody. (On 16 October, according to photos posted on the Facebook account, Teni distributed COVID-related medical equipment to the doctors and paramedics of the Lakhimpur-Kheri district hospital.) The Hindustan Times reported that “a police official said Ashish Mishra’s illness had interrupted the investigation as the investigators were unable to continue with his cross-examination before seven other accused taken on remand along with him. He said Mishra’s cross examination couldn’t be done even on Saturday due to his illness.”

On 22 October, Upendra Agrawal—a deputy inspector general who had been heading the SIT since 5 October—was also transferred as DIG from Lucknow range to Devipatna range. An Indian Express report quoted unidentified sources saying Agrawal’s new office was 200 kilometres from Lakhimpur Kheri and that “it would not be possible for him to come daily to Lakhimpur Kheri and supervise the investigation.” In his submission to the Supreme Court, Tripathi said Agrawal’s transfer involved “political overtones” and was a matter of “serious concern.”

The police has arrested 13 people, including the minister’s son and Jaiswal, in the FIR filed by Singh. Four people have been arrested on Jaiswal’s complaint. A local trial court has rejected Ashish’s bail plea. Meanwhile, in mid December, the SIT told the court that the Lakhimpur Kheri incident was the result of a pre-planned conspiracy. Tripathi told me, “The SIT is functioning under court appointed former judge, Rakesh Jain. So it’s not like the SIT found something in hurry ... If there was no influence, the minister would have been questioned by now. That is clear.” He added, “Teni has no right to remain a minister.” The Caravan emailed questions to Teni but did not receive a response.