India

One ‘Accidental Firing’ After Another, a Lot in Between

Santosh Singh

Patna, Since his aide Dhiraj Mahato dropped dead in front of him this week, shot through the head and an eye, Bihar legislator Ashok Agrawal of Katihar has been saying his bodyguard’s carbine went off accidentally.

In 2008, Agrawal and his bodyguards had been named in connection with another death “due to accidental firing”. Two cases were then lodged. The family of Vijay Thakur, the man shot dead on the Katihar-Purnia Road, filed a murder case against Agrawal, his two bodyguards and seven others, citing old disputes. The Sadar police lodged a simultaneous case of accidental firing.

This time, his claim notwithstanding, the BJP MLC faces murder charges but, as before, he has not been arrested. Police in fact announced Agrawal is “absconding”, though the leader appeared around the same time on news channels, saying from his Katihar home that he was “very much here”, that “there is no question of my absconding”.

Between the two firings came a case of kidnapping, again involving his bodyguards along with him, besides complaints in court that he had instigated police to fire on villagers in Forbesganj last year. His son Saurav is the joint owner, along with an Uttarakhand businessman, of an upcoming maize and starch factory at the centre of the agitation that led to the firing, which left four dead. Agrawal himself owns several petrol pumps in Katihar and Araria and also a tea garden in Kisanganj.

The latest murder case was lodged on a complaint by Neeraj Mahato, brother of Dhiraj who was killed. Neeraj is a crime reporter with a local daily while his brother, he said, was working on a road construction project being promoted by the MLC in Araria.

Dhiraj, seeking a break from work, had arrived on Monday in Katihar, where his family lives. He has a three-year-old daughter and a six-month-old son. On Tuesday he went to meet Agrawal and found the leader at a petrol pump next to his house, along with his bodyguard Awadesh Singh.

According to Neeraj’s version, Dhiraj urged Agrawal to allow him a break but the latter ordered him to go back to work at once, leading to an argument. Neeraj quoted Agrawal as having said, “If you don’t want to go to Araria, I will send you to a place from where no one returns,” before he allegedly took the weapon from his bodyguard and shot Dhiraj dead.

In his complaint with the Sahayak police, Neeraj has questioned how two bullets fired accidentally from a magazine can both hit parts of the head. Besides, he said, a carbine being serviced — as claimed by the MLC — is usually unloaded beforehand.

Neeraj said his brother was killed for defying Agrawal. He cited the example of two labourers who had allegedly been kidnapped by the leader one-and-a-half years ago and who later told police that the MLC had been planning to kill them.

Agrawal said, “I had no grudge against Dhiraj. My guard was servicing his carbine and the bullets went off accidentally, killing Dhiraj.”

Deputy inspector general of police (Purnia range) Bachchu Singh Mina said, “We have seized the carbine and the forensic team is working on it.” A two-member forensic team reached the spot Wednesday.

For the Forbseganj firing of 2011, no police case has been lodged against Agrawal but two complaints in Araria court describe how he had allegedly provoked the police. One of these was lodged by Rafiq Ansari, brother of one of the victims. He alleges Ashok Agrawal “had been very much present during the firing”. The other complainant, Fatkan Ansari, too is a relative of a victim and his charges are similar.

“Cases were filed only against policemen, not against any factory employee,” Araria superintendent of police Shivdeep W Lande said.

Police had fired on a group of protesters who had upset that the factory’s boundary wall was blocking the approach road to the village. The firing and the deaths led to a nationwide uproar, visits by a National Human Rights Commission team, and a judicial inquiry, but those responsible have not yet been brought to justice.

Along with his clout, Agrawal has made many enemies. Last April, police arrested Varun Kumar, a worker at one of the MLC’s Katihar petrol pumps, for carrying arms and apparently targeting his boss. Varun told the police that the BJP leader had grabbed his property. (Courtesy: Indian Express)

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