Police in Maharashtra’s Amravati city have denied MP Navneet Rana’s allegations of a “cover-up attempt” in the investigation of the murder of chemist Umesh Kolhe allegedly for supporting a BJP leader suspended in the Prophet remarks row.
Police commissioner Arti Singh said on Monday that Rana was making false allegations after her husband, MLA Ravi Rana, and workers of his Yuva Swabhiman Party (YSP) were booked in a murder-attempt case.
The police commissioner was referring to a letter written by Navneet on June 27 to Union Home Minister Amit Shah where the member of Parliament alleged that murders, riots, robberies and other crimes were increasing by the day in Amravati. Rana also accused the police of trying to pass off Kolhe’ murder as one related to a robbery attempt.
In February, YSP workers allegedly threw ink on municipal commissioner Pravin Ashtikar, following which a murder-attempt case was registered.
Asked about Navneet’s letter at a press conference, Singh said all the allegations were being made after an FIR was registered for attempt to murder. “Crimes in Amravati have not increased and robbery sections were never added to the case. If we wanted to cover up the case, we could have arrested two persons and closed it. But we wanted to be sure before making any statements to ensure it does not send shock waves throughout the country,” she said.
“Unlike in the Udaipur murder, in this case there was no confession made by the accused. Also, we did not get any incriminating evidence from the phones of the first few accused in the case. Further, the victim did not get any threat calls or messages,” the police commissioner said.
“After arresting the fifth accused, we were sure that this case was connected to a post shared by the deceased supporting Nupur Sharma. We learnt that there is a mastermind (Irfan) who assigned tasks and provided logistics for the murder,” added Singh.
Irfan had a non-governmental organisation registered with the charity commissioner five years ago, Singh said, adding that he was not on the police radar because he had no criminal history.
Asked whether action was taken over similar threats reportedly received by other people for supporting the suspended BJP leader, Singh said, “Till now, we have got to know that three persons have got such calls. Out of the three, one came to the police station after a lot of convincing. And we registered his complaint. The other two do not want to give complaints.”
“But we are doing our own investigations to find out who are the people who made these calls. We will find out if they are in any way connected to the accused in the murder case,” she said.
Asked if there were any handlers in the Kolhe murder or any Pakistan link like in the Udaipur murder, Singh said, “Till today we have not found any such links, but now the NIA will investigate the matter to find out if any such links are there or not.”
Answering a query on maintaining peace in Amravati, which got tense after the murder, Singh said, “We are trying to take others who got threats into confidence but they are not coming forward. We also held a lot of peace committee meetings before and after the murder. We are also holding a meeting with a traders association,” she added.
Singh also confirmed that one of the accused, Yusuf Khan, 44, a veterinary doctor who had known Kolhe since 2006, owed the slain chemist Rs 1.50 lakh. Khan had taken some medicines worth a few lakh rupees from Kolhe. He was arrested for allegedly circulating Kolhe’s post in a WhatsApp group where the accused were members, the police commissioner said.
Seven accused have been arrested and another, identified as Shamim, is wanted. The accused were sent to judicial custody on Monday. The NIA will take over the investigation and seek their custody.
‘I got threats but don’t wish to pursue the matter’
Among the three persons who the police said received threats is a mobile-shop owner in the city. After multiple requests from the police, he finally went to the City Kotwali police station where a non-cognisable complaint was registered on June 28 under Section 507(criminal intimidation by anonymous communication) of the Indian Penal Code against an unknown person. The police said the other two men said they did not want to register complaints.
The shopkeeper told The Indian Express on the condition of anonymity, “On June 10 I received a post supporting Nupur Sharma on a WhatsApp group called Busyland Parivar. Around 3.15 pm, I made the post my WhatsApp status by mistake. Within four minutes, I realised it was a bad post, I got scared and I deleted it.” Busyland is a commercial hub near Amravati.
But by the time he deleted the post, some of his Muslim customers took screenshots of the status and forwarded them to WhatsApp groups, the shopkeeper said.
“Within five minutes of the post, I got the first call, where I was asked to remove the post. In all, I got around 30-35 calls in two days. I also got posts with a photo of my shop with boycott messages. But I did not switch off my phone and patiently listened to them, which I think pacified them and the calls stopped after two days. Two of them were my customers who said they bought phones from me and asked how I could support such posts. I apologised to them,” he said.
“Out of the 30-odd calls, some abused me and some asked him to apologise,” he said.
According to the complainant, four-five unknown callers threatened him saying they knew where his shop was and that they would beat him up. They also asked him to make an apology video, which he did the same day.
“I do not wish to pursue the matter. I am a trader and just want to do business,” he said. A police official from the City Kotwali police said, “We will find out who the callers were and whether they were linked to the murder case.”
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