Opinion

Lakhimpur Kheri Violence: Yogi Adityanath Government Fighting Fire In Uttar Pradesh

For the moment, the Lakhimpur Kheri crisis appears to have been defused. However, this may not mean much relief for the Yogi Adityanath government in the state.

Lakhimpur Kheri Violence: Yogi Adityanath Government Fighting Fire In Uttar Pradesh
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Months before the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the Yogi Adityanath government was forced into fire-fighting mode after a vehicle allegedly driven by Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son mowed down four farmers agitating against three farm laws and a retaliation by the protesters left four more people dead in Lakhimpur Kheri in north-central UP. The minister denies involvement of his son Ashish.

The events on October 3 sparked protests by farmers in the country’s most populous state, and Opposition parties were quick to pounce on the issue that could potentially give them a toehold in a state that has been a BJP stronghold. The protesting farmers are accused of torching vehicles and lynching two BJP workers, besides a driver and a scribe.

The UP government’s response was two-fold. One, it immediately sought to defuse the crisis by announcing a compensation of Rs 45 lakh and a government job to the kin of the deceased, and a probe by a retired high court judge. Two, the government allowed Rakesh Tikait to negotiate the deal on behalf of the farmers, ensuring that no Opposition leader could reach the district.

While Tikait had reached the district that very night, all Opposition leaders—including Priyanka Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Jayant Chaudhary and Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan—were detained before they could reach the spot. Punjab chief minister Charanjit Singh Channi was also not allowed into Lakhimpur Kheri. Priyanka Gandhi later tweeted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi that she had been kept under arrest for 28 hours without an FIR or order.

Both the Congress and AAP shared a viral video of a vehicle running over farmers. Separately, videos of people being lynched have also done the rounds.

For the moment, the immediate crisis appears to have been defused. However, this may not mean much relief for the state government. “In public perception, a protest that was seen as confined to Punjab, Haryana and western UP has now made news in the context of north-central UP,” says an official. However, this may not affect local politics much, the official adds, as the community to which the dead farmers belong, the Sikhs, have a very small population in Lakhimpur Kheri as also the state.

The incident, a local source says, took place in a part of the district that has a significant Sikh population. Lakhimpur Kheri is a Hindu majority district, with significant populations of Kurmis, Lodhs and Mauryas, apart from Brahmins and Thakurs.

“Multiple factors operate in elections. The polls are still far away. This incident may not be a prime issue in the polls,” says Kanpur-based academic A.K. Verma, who specialises in UP politics. “It should also be remembered that while the incident was most condemnable, the Yogi government stepped in to defuse the crisis with great alacrity.”

However, Allahabad-based academic Badri Narayan disagrees: “It should be a cause of worry for the government. If this is the last such incident, it may not impact much. But if more such incidents take place close to elections, the image of the government may take a beating.”

Narayan says that there are two narratives regarding the incident: one, that the SUV mowed down the farmers, and two, the farmers had attacked the convoy and the car lost control. However, he adds, it is the first narrative that has the upper hand in the conventional and social media. “The government should not look away as protests become long-drawn. They should try to resolve them quickly, as chances of violence increase in long-drawn protests,” Narayan tells Outlook

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