Lakhimpur Kheri/Lucknow: For four days now, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and BJP leader Ajay Kumar Mishra has been in the eye of the storm, after his younger son Ashish was accused of being part of a convoy that ran over a group of farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri, killing four and triggering violence that resulted in the deaths of four more people.
The FIR in the case mentions Ashish Mishra’s name on charges of murder and rioting, and includes the allegation that he sat on the passenger side of an SUV and shot at the protesters, who had gathered to show black flags to his father, the two-term sitting Lakhimpur Kheri MP.
Back in July, Ajay Mishra came into the spotlight when he was inducted into the Narendra Modi government as minister of state, and was touted as the lone Brahmin face from Uttar Pradesh to be part of the ministry.
Since the father became a Union minister, Ashish Mishra ‘Monu’, who was denied a ticket for the 2017 UP assembly elections from Nighasan, had also increased his activities in the constituency. Within a few weeks, a tussle started between the Mishra family and protesting farmers, especially of the Sikh community, which ultimately snowballed into the violence in Lakhimpur Kheri.
ThePrint traces the history of the Mishra father and son.
Zila panchayat to Modi ministry
The Mishras are a prominent Brahmin family from Banbirpur village in Nighasan block. In Ajay Mishra’s college days, he had a massive interest in wrestling. Then, he practiced law before entering politics.
He started his political career as a zila panchayat member in 2009 as an independent candidate.
In the 2012 assembly elections, Mishra got a BJP ticket to fight from Nighasan, and he defeated Samajwadi Party’s R.A. Usmani by a margin of over 22,000 votes.
He won the Lok Sabha elections from Lakhimpur Kheri in 2014 and 2019.
Mishra was close to former UP minister and senior BJP leader Ram Kumar Verma, who also hailed from the Lakhimpur Kheri district. Verma, who died in 2018, was considered his ‘political guru’, and because of this, Mishra got support of the Kurmi community in 2012.
“Verma backed him in the zila panchayat elections in 2009, and later helped him in the 2012 elections too,” said a BJP source.
Pradeep Gupta, a district BJP functionary who oversees Nighasan, told ThePrint: “Ajay Mishra is a highly popular face, and on an average, every single day, he conducts some programme or other in the district to ensure he remains connected with the people. He meets people regularly and also holds janta darshan every week. And he believes in delivering justice on the spot. People come with their complaints and he gets them addressed immediately. Whenever he meets any party worker, he immediately stops the car and addresses them by name. This is a way of giving respect to every worker. He takes immense care of the workers.”
Nighasan resident Sunil Singh, meanwhile, said of Ajay Mishra: “Even if he can’t help financially, he manages things politically, so in that sense, he helps people. There have been many instances in our area where he personally intervened to help the people and which is why he has been given such support.”
‘Management skills, short temper’
A party functionary in Lakhimpur Kheri told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that while Ajay Mishra doesn’t have a good rapport with many in the local unit, his “management skills” have given him a strong hold on it.
“He neither comes from an RSS background nor is a ground-level party worker. He has been with our party for less than 10 years. He got the ticket because the party was looking for a Brahmin face, and he is financially very sound,” the functionary said.
People in his constituency also know Ajay Mishra as a short-tempered politician. A source close to him said he gets annoyed easily.
A resident witnessed Mishra lose his cool with a village head from Palia block, who had come to one of his janta darbars with a problem. “The village head ran away, but later Mishra said ‘I will do his work, but it’s necessary to teach them a lesson to keep these guys under control’,” the resident claimed.
On 23 September, during a public meeting, he got annoyed with a protester, and a video of the incident went viral. He could be heard saying: “Why has the farmers’ protest not got attention in Lakhimpur? Because there are only 10-15 people protesting against the laws. If the farm laws were so bad, the protest would have caught on. I would say ‘sudhar jao, nahin to do minute mein sudhaar denge’ (mend your ways, else I’ll do it in two minutes) to these farmers.”
This statement was purportedly what provoked the farmers to stage Sunday’s protest.
Ajay Mishra has had brushes with the wrong side of the law too, and has the image of a strongman in the area.
The first case against him was registered in 1990, sections 323 (punishment for voluntarily causing hurt), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt by dangerous weapons or means) and 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace) of the Indian Penal Code.
Then, in 1996, a ‘history sheet’ was opened in his name at Tikoniya police station, but closed after a few months.
In 2000, he became a topic of discussion locally when he was named in the murder case of 23-year-old Prabhat Gupta, who was shot dead in the Tikoniya area of Lakhimpur Kheri.
During the hearing of this case, Ajay Mishra was shot at in court, injuring him, but the shooter was never identified or nabbed.
He was acquitted in 2004, but the family of Gupta filed an appeal in the Allahabad High Court, and the case is still sub-judice.
Prabhat’s brother Rajiv Gupta told ThePrint: “My brother was murdered and a case was registered and my father fought it in court. The case was filed in 2000, but my father passed away, and till today, I am fighting that case.”
He went on to allege: “Whatever tricks and games they played at that time, they are doing the same in this farmers’ protest case. They are getting new witnesses ready who will speak on their behalf; they are trying to twist the entire narrative. I hope justice will be delivered in this case. I also hope that the entire case is investigated under the supervision of the Supreme Court.”
Trying to push son
Ajay Mishra’s son Ashish looks after the family business of a rice mill and petrol pumps in Lakhimpur Kheri district. It is no secret that he aims to become an MLA from the Nighasan seat, but was denied a ticket by the BJP in 2017.
Soon after his father retained the Lakhimpur Kheri seat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, Ashish started organising public meetings in the constituency to capture their attention. And since the senior Mishra became a minister, he started pushing Ashish as the main speaker in public meetings.
According to a local Samajwadi Party leader who did not wish to be named, Ajay Mishra tried hard to get a ticket for Ashish but did not succeed. “There was a lot of talk about his son getting a ticket. But at the last minute, he was unable to secure it. He was then hoping that Ashish would be able to contest the 2022 elections. His son also used to attend a number of his programmes and conducted his own too,” the leader said.
A source close to the family told ThePrint that after winning in 2019, Ajay Mishra’s aims have included “becoming the BJP’s Brahmin face and getting a ticket for his son”.
Ashish Mishra was hopeful of bagging a ticket for the 2022 UP polls, and had also started campaigning informally. A few posters were put up in the Nighasan area that read ‘Yuvaon ki pukaar, Monu Bhaiya abki baar (the youth are calling for Monu Bhaiya this time)’.
“The entire controversy has now jeopardised the minister’s plan. It is quite difficult now for him to get a ticket for his son. He is right now concentrating on saving his own ministership,” said a party functionary, requesting anonymity.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)