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Lakhimpur Kheri: Will PM Modi Break His Own Precedent & Sack Ajay Mishra 'Teni'?

Modi seldom sacks ministers in middle of a controversy. But BJP insiders feel Ajay Mishra could be an exception.

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Edited By :Tejas Harad

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi's track record suggests that he usually doesn't sack people during a controversy.

Those who know the PM say that he considers it a "sign of weakness" and an "admission of guilt": it's not like withdrawing a legislation like the farm laws or the land acquisition ordinance.

They say that in most cases Opposition's demands for removing certain ministers "don't even come up for discussion."

But a few in the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) Uttar Pradesh (UP) unit believe that Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra 'Teni' might be an exception after a Special Investigation Team (SIT) charged his son Ashish Mishra and others with killing farmers in Lakhimpur Kheri as part of a "pre-meditated" conspiracy.

Several Opposition leaders – from Rahul Gandhi to Akhilesh Yadav and Asaduddin Owaisi – have demanded Mishra's removal.

However, we'll come to Mishra later. First, let's look at why it is believed that Modi doesn't sack ministers in a hurry.

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Past Instances and Two Partial Exceptions

Smriti Irani: After Rohith Vemula's suicide, the Opposition, activists and students had demanded the removal of the then Minister of Human Resource Development Smriti Irani. But Modi didn't sack her immediately, even if it meant derailing his efforts to woo Dalits. Irani was eventually transferred to another ministry but six months later when the row had subsided to some extent.

Harsh Vardhan: Then there was the case of former Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan. The Opposition had been demanding Harsh Vardhan's resignation following the alleged mismanagement of the COVID-19 second wave in April-May 2021. Harsh Vardhan did resign eventually but two months later when the anger had died down.

Modi seldom sacks ministers in middle of a controversy. But BJP insiders feel Ajay Mishra could be an exception.

Harsh Vardhan.

(Photo: iStock)

Anandiben Patel: The same trend can be seen even among chief ministers. There were intense demands for the removal of Anandiben Patel as Gujarat chief minister during the peak of the Patidar agitation in 2015 as she was accused of a violent crackdown on protesters. But she wasn't sacked.

Instead she resigned on 1 August 2016 expressing her desire to be relieved of her responsibilities as she was about to turn 75. The then BJP president Amit Shah publicly praised her decision and she was also respectfully accommodated as a governor.

Several Other Cases: Then there have been less intense demands for the resignation of different ministers such as Nirmala Sitharaman, Anurag Thakur, Arun Jaitley, Dharmendra Pradhan, Ananth Kumar Hegde, Narendra Singh Tomar, and Radhamohan Singh to name a few. But none of these demands were heeded.

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There have been at least two exceptions to this rule, however.

MJ Akbar resigned as Minister of State for External Affairs in October 2018 after a series of sexual harassment allegations surfaced against him. Even this is said to have been a much delayed step, despite the embarrassing fact of a minister dealing with foreign relations having serious sexual harassment allegations against him.

Then there's the case of Suresh Prabhu, who resigned as railway minister in 2017 following a spate of rail accidents. Even in Prabhu's case, Modi asked him to wait after he had offered to resign. It was only after a few days that his resignation was accepted.

All these cases show that Modi is reluctant to accept Opposition's demands for any minister's resignation. Even if he does remove them, he does so at a time of his choosing.

Will Ajay Mishra 'Teni' Be an Exception?

Though no one in the BJP can dare second-guess Modi, there are murmurs that Ajay Mishra 'Teni' may face the axe soon.

Though the government rejected the Opposition's demand for his removal, it does seem to be getting pushed into a corner on the issue.

When an SIT was formed on the 3 October Lakhimpur Kheri incident – in which eight people were killed, including four farmers and one journalist, who were allegedly run over by a car belonging to Mishra's son – many were sceptical, given the uneven track record of the SIT probes in UP.

However, Supreme Court Chief Justice NV Ramana's decision to appoint a team led by retired Punjab and Haryana High Court judge Justice Rakesh Kumar Jain seems to have complicated matters for the government.

Modi seldom sacks ministers in middle of a controversy. But BJP insiders feel Ajay Mishra could be an exception.

CJI NV Ramana has played a key role in holding the UP Police accountable.

(Photo: Altered by The Quint)

The team monitoring the SIT probe also comprises three Indian Police Service (IPS) officers of the UP cadre – SB Shiradkar, Padmaja Chauhan and Preetinder Singh – all of whom are said to have a low profile and relatively non-controversial image.

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Legally, the potential problem for Teni is also said to be coming from the fact that the SIT has invoked Section 120B dealing with criminal conspiracy in the case.

Since the killings are being presented as part of a pre-planned conspiracy, it opens the space for people not present at the scene, such as Teni himself, to be summoned in the case.

Whether that eventually happens or not is a different issue but as things stand today, Teni is in the dock and this is something that people within the BJP acknowledge.

One section in the UP BJP feels that it's better for the party to cut its losses and sack Teni, otherwise farmers' anger will remain an issue in the upcoming elections, defeating the entire purpose of Modi's repeal of the farm laws.

Another case being made is that the party should make an example of Teni and showcase before voters that when it comes to law and order, it doesn't spare even its own ministers. The idea is that if he has to be removed, it should be in such a way that it is the BJP and not the Opposition that benefits.

Teni is only making matters worse with his angry outbursts against journalists on being asked about the charges against his son Ashish. Even a few TV channels usually sympathetic towards the BJP are now calling for his removal.

Modi seldom sacks ministers in middle of a controversy. But BJP insiders feel Ajay Mishra could be an exception.

Ashish Misra, the son of Union Minister Ajay Teni Misra and the 'main accused' in the Lakhimpur case. Image used for representational purposes. 

(Photo: The Quint)

The political cost of removing Teni isn't much since he doesn't command much influence outside of his own district. The 'Brahmin reaction' being talked about is bogus and the community is unlikely to ditch the BJP, at least over Teni.

In contrast, the BJP has alienated at least the Sikhs of Terai over the Lakhimpur Kheri issue, which could harm the party to some extent in districts like Pilibhit and Kheri in UP and Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand, besides of course Punjab where the damage has already been done.

It remains to be seen what Modi decides. In this case, however, waiting may not be a great idea. It may actually have been wiser for the party to remove Teni before repealing the farm laws because perhaps the latter measure could have diluted the impact of the former.

But this can be said only in hindsight. Perhaps the BJP may not have entirely anticipated what the SIT would exactly do or that Teni would begin to self-destruct in public.

(With inputs by Piyush Rai.)

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