Ticket hopes dented, but Ashish remains his father’s political heir in his village

At Banveerpur, Union minister Ajay Mishra’s village, most are willing to testify that his son Ashish Mishra was present at the venue of a wrestling event on October 3 when a convoy of vehicles, including one owned by his father, mowed down a group of farmers, killing four of them and a journalist.

Despite his arrest, Ashish, popular as Monu Bhaiyya, most villagers vouch for his innocence.

For them, among his three siblings, Ashish, the eldest, remains Ajay Mishra’s political and business heir.

“After Teniji [Ajay Mishra] became the MP from Lakhimpur Kheri seat, it was Monu Bhaiyya who took over his reign in the district. People who would come to meet Teniji to resolve their issues started meeting Monu Bhaiyya,” says Akash Mittal, the 32-year-old pradhan of Banveerpur.

Ashish also took charge of the daily running of the family business – a rice mill and two petrol pumps owned by his father.

According to villagers, Ashish handled his father’s political campaign in the 2014 and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. “He was always working behind the scenes and organising things. His popularity is unmatched. He is Ajay Mishra’s uttaradhikari (successor),” says Amar, a 31-year-old villager.

“Unme jo baat hai, woh Abhimanyu bhaiyya mein nahi hai. Woh thode seedhe hain (the qualities he possesses is not in his brother Abhimanyu, who is rather simple).”

A Samajwadi Party leader in Nighasan, from where Ashish is keen to contest the upcoming Assembly polls on a BJP ticket, says, “His image is not very different from his father Ajay’s.” He refuses to speak more about him. “I have to live here,” he says.

According to Tikonia Station House Officer Balendu Gautam, two cases were filed against Ashish between 2007 and 2009 at the local police station. “They are related to assault charges,” says the police officer. He refuses to divulge more.

According to a villager, Banveerpur fears the Mishra family. “No one will say anything against Ashish or anyone from his family even after he killed four people. Such is their stature in the village,” alleges the 37-year-old farmer.

Across Nighasan block and Banveerpur, Ashish’s political ambitions and presence is clear – and are there to see on the walls. “Nighasan janta ki pukaar, Monu Bhaiyya ab ki baar (people of Nighasan want Monu Bhaiyaa this time),” says one of the slogans painted on a wall.

“He had sought a ticket in 2017 Assembly polls too, but the party fielded senior leader Patel Ramkumar Verma,” says a local BJP leader, referring to the Union minister’s former political mentor. Ties between the two leaders, however, soured over the years, say party leaders.

Nighasan is currently held by Verma’s son Shashank, who won the 2019 bypoll on a BJP ticket after his father’s death.

According to a BJP leader based in Lakhimpur Kheri, the farmer deaths may have dented Ashish’s chances of getting a party ticket. “This time, Monu had a good chance of getting the ticket to contest from Nighasan, but let’s see what happens now. Shashank is the sitting MLA. So, he is also a good choice for the BJP,” he says.

“It is difficult to predict what happens next, but the October 3 incident will definitely affect his chances. Tikonia mein bahot bada kaand ho gaya. Poore desh mein baat ho rahi hai (the country is talking about what happened in Tikonia),” he says. “The party is under pressure.”

This setback to his political dreams – which has led other ticket hopefuls to jump into the fray over the past few days – is perhaps one challenge Ashish would have wanted to avoid. Despite his fondness for “kushti” (wrestling).

Villagers and those close to his family say Ashish likes challenges, when it comes to wrestling. “He is not shy of taking on a wrestler from the village. Baaki zyada koi shauk nahi, par kushti karte hain (he is passionate about wrestling),” says a local BJP leader, close to the Mishra family.

A science graduate from Lucknow University, Ashish got married to Rinki Mishra from Bheera town in Lakhimpur Kheri in 2014.

“It was an arranged marriage. Monu Bhaiyya’s wife is the sister of BJP leader Achal Mishra. Her father Uddhav Shyam Mishra was also associated with the BJP,” says a local BJP leader. The couple have two school-going daughters.

While Ashish used to live at Banveerpur, his wife and daughters lived in Lakhimpur Kheri city. They would visit him on the weekends, says the village head.