Lakhimpur: The Special Investigation Team (SIT) of Uttar Pradesh police on Tuesday arrested the driver of one of the SUVs that was part of the convoy which ploughed through a group of protesting farmers on October 3, the police said killing four protesters, a journalist, three others in the subsequent violence.
The accused, Shekhar Bharti, was driving one of three vehicles involved in the incident, police said. As per Police officials, the vehicle was owned by Ankit Das, a close aide of Ashish Mishra, Union minister Ajay Mishra’s son, and nephew of former Rajya Sabha MP and UPA minister Akhilesh Das.
On Tuesday, the SIT also took custody of Ashish Mishra, who is currently lodged in Lakhimpur Kheri jail after a local court had on Monday sent him on a three-day police custody.
In the morning, Ashish was brought to Lakhimpur Kheri Crime Branch office for interrogation. The SIT had decided to “confront” him with witnesses and questioned him at length on any conspiracy behind the incident. The SIT claims that more people may be called for questioning if they come across any conspiracy during investigation.
Besides Ashish, and now Shekhar Bharti, the two others arrested are Luvkush Pandey and Ashish Pandey.
“We are yet to ascertain the motive behind the incident,” an officer said.
On Sunday, the SIT had arrested Ashish for allegedly not cooperating with the investigation.
On Tuesday, defence lawyer Awadesh Kumar Singh said, “Police had allowed us to be present at a distance when the questioning was going on.” Singh also said he had filed a surrender application in a Lakhimpur Kheri court on behalf of Ankit Das, and another driver identified as Lateef. The court had sought a report from local police on the petition, he said.
In a release, Lakhimpur Kheri police said Shekhar Bharti, who comes from Lucknow, was produced before a local court, which sent him to judicial custody. Police have sought 14-day custody, and the court will hear that petition on Wednesday, the release stated.
According to police, the SIT is trying to collect information on an SUV of Mahindra Scorpio make, which they say was part of the convoy involved in the fatal incident. According to the investigators, a Mahindra Thar vehicle, which belonged to Ajay Mishra, was leading the convoy. It was followed by a black Fortuner and a Scorpio. The Thar and the Fortuner were damaged and set on fire by angry people at the spot after the farmers were run over; those in the Scorpio had sped off, according to police.
“We have so far received more than 50 video clips from people, (but) none of them contains the Scorpio’s registration number,” a senior officer associated with the probe said. “One of our major concerns at present is to identify the third vehicle and its occupants. The four people arrested did not give any detail about the Scorpio.”
In a video that emerged on social media last week, a man with injuries on his head is heard claiming that the black Fortuner belonged to Ankit Das.
Police are also looking for one Sumit Jaiswal, who is a complainant in one of the two cases lodged at Tikonia police station in connection with the October 3 incident.
The agency has decided to record statements of more people present at the spot on October 3 to collect information on the incident and the missing SUV. Police are also trying to trace people injured in the violence and get their statements recorded.
Sources said police plan to get a statement of crucial witnesses recorded before a magistrate.