The son of an Indian minister has been arrested on suspicion of suspected murder a week after his car collided with a group of protesting farmers, killing at least four people in an incident that has fueled the country’s rural protest movement.
Ashish Mishra, the 40-year-old son of junior home minister Ajay Kumar Mishra, was taken into Uttar Pradesh police custody after he was accused of being abusive and uncooperative this weekend when questioned about his whereabouts during the October 3 violence.
He was arrested after farmers and opposition parties accused the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of giving a preliminary response to the incident, which they said was evidence of a deeper culture of impunity as Uttar Pradesh prepares to watch state elections next year.
The results of Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, will be seen as a critical test of voter sentiment towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling party after the Kovid crisis, as India moves towards general elections in 2024.
“The BJP had no choice but to detain and interrogate the minister’s son as it claims to be the law and order party in UP,” said Giles Verniers, a professor of political science at Ashoka University.
“They can’t do anything because of the upcoming election and because there is irrefutable video evidence that the incident happened,” he said.
Farmers in northern India have been protesting for more than a year against the controversial agri-market reform that the Modi government brought to Parliament with little debate more than a year ago.
The implementation of three laws that would allow greater private participation in the agricultural market was suspended 18 months ago, but farmers continue to protest, demanding the repeal of the law.
The violence erupted in July in Lakhimpur Kheri district, the parliamentary seat of minister Mishra, a local power broker and a BJP member.
Protesting farmers claim that Mishra’s son deliberately took his four-wheeled SUV convoy with them, shortly after the minister warned protesters that he would rule them if they did not change their jobs.
In a disturbing video uploaded on social media, farmers are seen walking slowly on a rural road, carrying flags and chatting, while SUVs push into them quickly, without any visible effort to slow down or stop. Two more cars in the caravan are also moving fast.
At least four farmers were killed and others seriously injured in the collision. Four more were later killed in clashes around.
Mishra denies that his son was in the car but the farmers insist he was behind the wheel.
Modi-led Hindu guru Yogi Adityanath, as the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, first tried to quell the anger by offering financial compensation to the relatives of those cut under the car.
But peasants and opposition parties continued to demand the dismissal of Minister Mishra and the arrest and criminal trial of his son, eventually forcing the ruling party to act.
“The BJP is concerned about any kind of protest or dissent, regardless of their consequences or their ability to create a natural political problem for them,” Verniers said. “They saw that the opposition was hating it.”