By Arun Srivastava
The finance minister of Uttar Pradesh, Suresh Khanna, was absolutely right in saying: “Some decisions are taken in heaven. Whatever happened was kudrat’s (nature’s) justice, decided in heaven.” That the assassinations of gangster Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf was carried out following a ‘divine order’ is clearly manifest in Yogi government outright ignoring the orders of the Supreme Court and violating the defined security rules.
Only a couple of days back of his being killed brazenly in full view of the media men of Prayagraj, Atiq had expressed fear about being murdered by Uttar Pradesh police, and petitioned the Supreme Court to stop his transfer to Allahabad jail, but his petition was declined. The Uttar Pradesh government had assured the court about the safety of Atiq and Ashraf. Yogi government did not keep its promise made to the Supreme Court. It is not yet clear how the Supreme Court would treat the defiance of its instructions by the Yogi government. But one thing is certain: the court should have been more cautious and ensured that the state government had a sound mechanism for protection while Atiq and Ashraf Ahmed were in police custody. In fact, Atiq’s lawyer had told the apex court that the order to transfer him and Ashraf from Gujarat to Prayagraj was akin to issuing a death sentence.
The Supreme Court believing the words of the Yogi government is surprising, since only on February 25, CM Yogi Adityanath had made a statement: “Mafia ko mitti mein mila denge” [will turn the mafia to dust]. Commenting of the existing scenario, former judge of the Supreme Court, Justice Madan Lokur has said: “It was very unfortunate. It’s not good at all. That’s an indication there’s something wrong with the rule of law, with our judicial system.” The Supreme Court should have taken this statement of lawlessness, from none other than the UP chief minister himself, more seriously.
After the killing, a cold-blooded murder of the most bone-chilling kind, several conjectures and rumours are being placed in public domain. The most vital, which is again being floated by the senior police officials of the Yogi government, is that the criminals who killed Atiq did so in their quest to emerge as the most-dreaded and powerful mafia in the state. But their meek surrender to the police by raising their hands and their modus of operandi do not endorse the police version of mafia rivalry. Evidently, this theory is being floated to deflect the peoples’ attention from the real motif.
The spectacular assassination of Atiq and Ashraf was itself a well-designed conspiracy. In a state where no fewer than 32 high-profile Rajput dons and criminals, belonging to the same caste as CM Yogi, are active and calling the political shots, it is beyond comprehension that small-time criminals would dare to replace Atiq as formidable gangsters. Little doubt then that the cold-blooded killing of Atiq and Ashraf in police custody and in full glare of live television media lens has been, to say the least, “shocking”, and raised several worrying questions and suspicions about the Uttar Pradesh police. A video that has surfaced on social media shows Ashraf claiming that a top police officer had told him the brothers would be eliminated within two weeks. Asked who the officer was, Ashraf can be heard saying: “I can’t name him”. There exists a definite design behind Atiq’s killing is clear from the fact that he was killed only after killing of his son Assad in an ‘encounter’ in Jhansi.
The extrajudicial elimination of Atiq makes it explicit that the BJP is determined to completely trample the rule of law and democracy in the country. Ironically, it was in 2006 when the same Yogi Adityanath, as a member of Lok Sabha from UP’s Gorakhpur constituency, had wept before the then speaker of Lok Sabha, Somnath Chatterjee, and sought protection, as he was facing threat to his life. Now in power, CM Yogi has preferred to decimate all kind of democratic protest and perpetrate a dreaded reign of terror. That the Uttar Pradesh chief minister does not believe in rule of law is clearly evident from his resorting to extra-legal means, using bulldozer and questionable police ‘encounters’ to suppress the peoples’ voice.
No doubt, Atiq was a notorious gangster; he was involved in 103 criminal cases, he was in judicial custody. Obviously, one would expect that he should have been penalised using the established system of criminal justice. The manner in which he was killed directly puts the Yogi government under scanner.
Some political leaders belonging to the opposition openly express the apprehension that Atiq and Ashraf were killed just the day after the former Governor of now bifurcated Jammu and Kashmir, Satyapal Malik, revealed the home ministry’s incompetence and serial lapses in preventing the Pulwama terror attack, in which 40 CRPF jawans were killed. With the Malik interview bound to hog media limelight, the gangsters were killed off to deflect the peoples’ attention from the Pulwama failure and brush Malik’s revelations under the carpet.
Assessing the facts emerging from Atiq’s live TV assassination, such as the three assailants reaching close to him and his brother posing as newsmen, need a thorough probe. Curiously enough, right after killing the brothers, the assailants threw their pistols, raised their hands and told the police to arrest them as they were surrendering. There is no doubt that the entire operation was well scripted by those well versed in the criminal as well as police operations. Moreover, the assailants raising the slogan “Jai Sri Ram” has a well-devised motive to divert the attention of the people and make it look like an operation aimed at a Muslim gangster.
It is revealed that the three killers had reached the hospital well before the police descended there with the two gangsters. They were mingling with the newsmen. Allahabad is not a metro. The gangsters being brought to the hospital for a medical check-up also was not publicised in advance. Obviously, no scribe would have descended there from other places at around 10.30 in the night. All reporters were from Allahabad. While these newsmen know well each other, they are also known to the police by their faces. How no one could question the identity of the assailants is perplexing.
Some top police officials also confided off-the-record that they had not received any message about medical emergency for Atiq and Ashraf. In absence of a medical emergency for gangsters facing threat to their lives, it is yet to become clear who ordered the cops to take the high-risk prisoners for a ‘check-up’ at night. This reckless act of the police raises suspicion about the intentions of the police. Besides political leaders, a section of the police and lawyers put a question mark on why the prisoners were made to walk instead of taking them in a protective vehicle, preferably an ambulance. Since they needed treatment and medical check-up, why they were stopped at the gate and media allowed to interact with them, which is not the norm.
Supreme Court lawyer Kapil Sibal who sought explanation from the police, asked if the assailants knew each other. He expressed apprehension of a deep-rooted conspiracy. He said, “If they did not and had not planned the attack together, how did they land up at the spot at the same time and execute their separate plans in unison?” The question which really shakes up the Yogi government is from where the assassins got such sophisticated weapons.
The otherwise trigger-happy and pro-encounter UP police has been at a loss to explain its perplexing inertia in immediately retaliating to the criminals’ firing act. Why the police, who were guarding the prisoners, even though they possessed modern weapons, including machine guns, did not retaliate? Once the assailants accomplished their mission, the police, at their invitation, jumped on them and took them under its custody. They were identified as Luvlesh Tiwari, Sunny and Arun Maurya. Eyewitnesses said around 14 rounds were fired. The shooting lasted 22 seconds. They shouted “Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram” and then, “Surrender karte hain, surrender karte hain (I surrender, I surrender)”. The other two lifted their arms above their heads.
Astonishingly, the killers made no effort to escape. Usually, the police in such cases, prefers to take the remand of the criminals. Instead, in Atiq-Ashraf murder case, the three killers were sent to judicial custody for 14 days. Police did not show any intent to question them and get to the bottom of the entire operation. How they planned it and who provided them with the pistols are central questions that demand answers from both the UP police and the Yogi government. But the UP police already had a ready-made theory: the trio killed Atiq and Ashraf to make a name for themselves in the underworld.
The UP government has set up a three-member judicial committee to investigate the killing of Atiq Ahmad and his brother, Ashraf. But people nurse scepticism whether it would unearth the real plot. Justice Lokur has said: “While there have been encounter deaths before, but the Saturday night killings were probably the first-time people have been killed by a third person while in police custody.” The most important question that is making the rounds of the political circle as well as the police circles is: how did the killers know Atiq and his brother were being taken to the hospital at 10.30 at night? Were they tipped off by someone?
If the sources are to be believed, the police did not mention the three killers as criminals. Instead in FIR it mentions: “Suddenly, two of the journalists dropped their camera and mic, respectively, and fired at Atiq and Ashraf in a flash. The third journalist also started firing. Before someone could fathom the situation, the criminals, in the garb of journalists, killed Atiq and Ashraf. Policeman Mann Singh sustained injuries and one of the attackers also got injured in the firing.” This raises suspicion on the intentions of the police. How could it describe the killers as journalists?
There is no doubt that the three killers were the pawns in the hands of powerful persons who remain the invisible background. They belonged to lower middle-class families. Of course, one is a functionary of the hardline militant Hindutva outfit, Bajrang Dal. It is said that their families have disowned them. It is certainly not a matter of surprise. This is the usual operational pattern. Tiwari is a resident of Banda, Sunny is from Hamirpur and Maurya belongs to Kasganj district. They arrived in Prayagraj 48 hours before the incident and were staying in a hotel.
The chief medical superintendent of Colvin Hospital, Dr Nahida Siddiqui, had told the media that “the police did not inform us. We were told that Atiq and his brother Ashraf were being brought for a medical check-up just 10 minutes before their arrival. If the police had asked us, we would have sent our medical team where Atiq was kept, like before”. (IPA Service)