There have been violent clashes in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh after four farmers were killed out of eight fatalities when a convoy of cars allegedly rammed into a group of protesting farmers.
Top farm leaders, who have been agitating against new farm laws on Sunday alleged that the son of federal minister Ajay Kumar Mishra was in one of the cars that deliberately mowed down the farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri district.
Police have filed a criminal complaint against the minister’s son, Ashish Mishra, and 14 other people while six people have already been taken into custody.
The federal minister and his son have denied involvement in the incident, claiming that Mr Mishra was not present in any of his cars at the time of the accident.
Uttar Pradesh state authorities have suspended internet services in parts of the state and barred political leaders from entering the town of Lakhimpur, where the incident occurred, in response to the heightened tensions.
Several top opposition party ministers, including Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav and Congress’s Navjot Singh Sidhu were detained following the incident.
Thousands of farmers from northern India have been protesting for more than ten months against the three farm laws deregulating the agriculture sector, passed last year that they dub as “black laws.”
The farmers believe that the laws will leave them at the mercy of big corporates, loosening the rules around sale and pricing of their produce.
The protests escalated sharply on Sunday when farmers in eastern Lakhimpur district of the state, bordering Nepal, gathered to protest as senior BJP leaders, including junior home affairs minister, Ajay Kumar Mishra, were due to visit.
The farmers were reportedly angry about comments made by federal minister Mr Mishra’s in a video last week in which he allegedly challenged those protesting the farm laws, reported The Indian Express.
Police and officials have confirmed the death toll, claiming that three other fatalities were members of the BJP party and a journalist, but did not confirm the details of events leading to deaths.
In the unfortunate incident of Lakhimpur, 8 casualties have been reported till now as per the district administration. ADG LO, ACS Agriculture,IG Range & Commissioner are on the spot & situation is under control.Adequate deployment has been done to prevent any untoward incident.
— UP POLICE (@Uppolice) October 3, 2021
“Eight people died in today’s Lakhimpur incident. Out of the eight, four were farmers and the remaining four were others who were in the vehicles,” Uttar Pradesh’s director general of police, Mukul Goel, told television news channel CNN-News18.
Violent clashes broke out between farmers and those in the cavalcade where the incident occurred. Several cars were torched and more protests broke out in the aftermath of the alleged accident.
Members of BJP have also lodged a separate criminal complaint against the farmers over the death of its members and the driver, said Arvind Chaurasia, a senior official in charge of the district.
Mr Mishra has denied the presence of his son, saying if he “would’ve been there, he wouldn’t have come out alive.”
“My son was not present at the place of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident. I have video evidence. Stones were pelted on BJP workers’ car, which overturned. Two persons came under it and died. BJP workers were lynched after this,” Mr Mishra was quoted as saying by the PTI news agency.
On Monday, the farmers who had been demonstrating over yesterday’s violence agreed to call off the protest over the deaths and cremate the dead bodies after several rounds of talks with the authorities. The UP government pledged to pay Rs 4.5mn (£44,582) of compensation to the families of those who died and Rs 1mn (£9906) to those injured.
Promises have been made to give government jobs to a family member of all four deceased farmers and a judicial probe by a retired High Court judge in the case.
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityananth described the incident as “unfortunate” and promised an investigation.
जनपद लखीमपुर खीरी में घटित हुई घटना अत्यंत दुःखद एवं दुर्भाग्यपूर्ण है। @UPGovt इस घटना के कारणों की तह में जाएगी तथा घटना में शामिल तत्वों को बेनकाब करेगी व दोषियों के विरुद्ध सख्त कार्रवाई करेगी।
— Yogi Adityanath (@myogiadityanath) October 3, 2021
But Rahul Gandhi, leader of Congress party, called it an “inhuman massacre” while calling out prime minister Narendra Modi for his silence over the deaths.