Lakhimpur Kheri incident: How deal was reached, keeping Tikait in front

Tikait is learnt to have asked the officer coordinating with him from Lucknow to keep away Opposition leaders as that would make convincing and pacifying the farmers harder.

THE Uttar Pradesh government acted swiftly to contain the fallout of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, ensuring that the protesting farmers climbed down from their position within 24 hours and that a crowd of over 25,000 gathered at the site dispersed. The man who helped them achieve this was Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait, and a group of senior officers who have dealt with the western UP leader over the years.

Sources said these officers, along with others, roped in Tikait for mediation, ensured he reached Lakhimpur Kheri as soon as possible, and arranged negotiations which began at around 1.30 am on Monday and ended around 2 pm, nearly 12 hours later.

Tikait is learnt to have asked the officer coordinating with him from Lucknow to keep away Opposition leaders as that would make convincing and pacifying the farmers harder. The Yogi Adityanath government blocked roads, stopped aircraft from landing and detained leaders to ensure the Opposition couldn’t make it to the site, even on Tuesday.

The role played by Tikait is significant as he is considered the face of the farm protests in UP. In the poll-bound state, these protests are largely concentrated in the western districts, where the Tikaits (starting from Tikat’s formidable father Mahender Singh Tikat) have long called the shots. An officer present at the spot said that at no time did Tikait express any aggression or criticism towards the state government — either at the talks or while addressing the farmers. He left Lakhimpur Kheri only after the protesters had dispersed.

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Officers said meetings with the farmers were held over “three stages”, at a building close to the spot, to ensure a breakthrough. First, Lakhimpur Kheri District Magistrate Arvind Chaurasiya and Superintendent of Police Vijay Dhull held talks with the farmer delegation, which was led by Tikait and comprised two of his confidants and four local Sikh farmers. They met thrice, with intervals in the middle.

Then, as per the strategy that had been worked out, Lucknow Range IG Lakshmi Singh and Divisional Commissioner Ranjan Kumar took over, holding meetings spread over several rounds, with breaks for tea and lunch.

The Tikait team put forth three demands — registration of a murder case against Union minister Ajay Mishra and his son Ashish (the farmers have alleged that Ashish was driving the car that ploughed through a group of protesters, leaving four dead); presentation of the FIR copy immediately; compensation of Rs 1 crore to the kin of each of the deceased farmers; and government job to one member of their family in their native district.

The officers assured the delegation that the case would be lodged, while asking them to reduce the compensation demand and give up the insistence on a job. However, for a long time the Tikait-led delegation didn’t budge.

Officers admitted that there were many tense moments as the crowd kept swelling around the site. They feared that any small incident could trigger a clash between angry farmers — many allegedly armed with swords, sticks and licensed guns — and the huge contingent of police, RAF and SSB deployed at the spot.

Around 1 pm, a team of Additional Chief Secretary, Agriculture, Devesh Chaturvedi, ADG, Law & Order, Prashant Kumar, and ADG, Lucknow Zone, S N Sabat went in to talk to the farmers, armed with a copy of the FIR against Ashish, reportedly after a final go-ahead from Lucknow to strike a deal. The family members of the deceased farmers were also present at this meeting. The compensation amount was amicably finalised at Rs 45 lakh for families of those deceased and Rs 10 lakh for those injured. Top officers in Lucknow also talked to Tikait and a Sikh farmer leader from Punjab.

The team of senior officers reportedly did not want a press briefing on the final deal, but Tikait insisted on it. He told the media that farmers were ending their agitation over Sunday’s incident, and went on to address the farmers.

Apart from Chaturvedi and the other officers who were part of the final talks, Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Awanish Kumar Awasthi also played a crucial role. Sources said Awasthi was in constant touch with officers at the spot and Tikait.

As per sources, Awasthi has kept a line open with Tikait since the farmers’ agitation over the three farm laws began a year ago, and has had good relations with the family since coming in contact with Tikait Senior during his stint as the District Magistrate of Meerut. Officers say this is why the BKU has not held any big agitation within UP limits, especially around Lucknow.

The other officers too know Tikait well. ADG Prashant Kumar served as ADG, Meerut Zone, for a long time, while ADG S N Sabat was earlier posted as SSP, Muzaffarnagar, also in west UP. ACS, Agriculture, Chaturvedi has been part of many meetings with Tikait in his official capacity.

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