What provoked the driver of the jeep to plough through farmers on Sunday?

The farmers walking on the road seem to have ignored the siren fitted on the jeep. Whoever was driving the jeep was unable to control his rage at the defiance or was instructed to plough through them

A still from the video of the car mowing down farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri
A still from the video of the car mowing down farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri

Mini Bandopadhyay

What made the driver of the Thar jeep plough into the farmers from behind at Lakhimpur Kheri ? It was clearly a deliberate act because the farmers were walking on the middle of the road and were hit from behind. But was it a sudden rush of blood that made the driver plough through the phalanx of human beings? Or was there any provocation?

Indeed, when the jeep hit the farmers, neither stones nor sticks seem to have been used to attack it or, for that matter, the Fortuner and the Scorpio that followed. Some farmers had black flags in their hands and they were slowly and silently walking on the road.

The graphic video clips of the jeep driving into the wall of human beings were horrific. The jeep seemed to have a mind of its own as it did not slow down even on impact. As it ploughed on, farmers scattered on both sides of the road. The Fortuner and the Scorpio following the jeep were also being driven fast. But the jeep had cleared the way for them to pass through the cleared road.

The videos also show farmers were not walking single file on flanks but occupied the entire width of the road. "It was as if they had decided not to give the right of way to the vehicles rushing at them at great speed. They were being defiant," said an official in Lucknow not willing to be quoted.

The jeep's driver, he said, appeared to have been provoked by farmers not giving way despite the siren blaring at full volume. That police siren fitted on the jeep was another violation of the law but in Uttar Pradesh it is fairly common to see 'dabang' people using the siren fitted in their private cars. It is a show of their self-image, their clout and reach.

But farmers walking on the road seem oblivious to the sound of the siren. They continued walking quietly, deliberately and they did not look back, the official pointed out. It was only after the jeep made the impact and hit the first phalanx that one or two of them turned their head but by then it was too late.

The speed at which the Thar jeep, fitted with a siren, hurtled down the road suggests the driver was infuriated at the show of defiance, observers believe. The farmers did not expect the jeep would be driven into them. Farmers claim one of their leaders was the main target and it was pre-meditated murder. Officials believe the defence in all probability claim it to be a case of road rage.

Eyewitness accounts say that the speeding vehicles had to slow down and stop because of police barricades put on the road and a police bus parked there. The occupants, they claim, got down from the vehicles and escaped through the cane fields. When farmers chased them, they opened fire. The policemen, accuse farmers, covered the fleeing men and lobbed tear gas shells to stop farmers in pursuit.

It is believed that occupants of the first two vehicles, the jeep and the Fortuner, managed to get away while the occupants of the Scorpio that brought up the rear fell into the hands of the enraged farmers and were lynched.

Strangely, no policeman came to their rescue despite the presence of a large force and officials. Why? Were they too busy helping the minister’s men in the first two vehicles get away? But then how was the minister’s driver got left behind and killed?

One of the survivors is overheard in yet another video telling a police Inspector that the jeep was with ‘Monu Bhaiyya’, which is how the minister’s son is called in the area. Was he driving the jeep? He has denied the charge and claimed to be innocent. He was not even present on the spot, he has maintained.

But while the last word on the incident has clearly not been said yet, observers point out that the jeep being a symbol of power and authority, it would have been driven by either the owner himself or someone close to him. The driver in all probability, they say, was used to drive the Fortuner but on that eventful Sunday, even the driver was probably in the Scorpio. It is not clear yet whether he was driving it or was just one of the occupants.

Five days after the gruesome incident, there are still several unanswered questions. Neither the minister's son nor the UP Police have cleared the air so far.

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