In the sixth attack on a witness in the Surat rape case against self-styled spiritual leader Asaram and his son Narayan Sai, two unidentified men shot at Asaram’s former aide Mahendra Chawla in Panipat on Wednesday morning. The attack took place a day after a personal security officer assigned to Chawla went home, leaving him unguarded.
Chawla was operated upon in a hospital. Doctors said his condition was stable.
According to police, two men, who had come on a motorcycle, entered Chawla’s house at 8.50 am and opened fire at the 35-year-old, hitting him twice in the back.
“Chawla tried to fight back and jumped off the balcony. In the commotion, the two men fled on their bike. Chawla is the sole witness to the attack and a sketch of the assailants will be drawn based on the description he provides,” Shrikant Jadhav, IG (Rohtak Range), said.
Haryana Police had assigned a personal security officer to Chawla roughly a month ago on the recommendation of the Gujarat Police.
“Constable Bharat of the Panipat police had been guarding Chawla since last Saturday after replacing a guard posted earlier. He left for his home in Sonipat on Tuesday evening. He has been suspended for dereliction of duty. Three persons will now guard Chawla round-the-clock. Prima facie, it appears that the assailants had been conducting dry runs, and the absence of the security officer gave them a window to attack Chawla. We are also questioning the PSO,” Jadhav added.
Chawla was staying in a rented accommodation in Sanoli village, 15 km from Panipat, his friend Neeraj, who took him to the hospital, said. He had been living alone for the last three years.
His neighbour Sonu said, “I was sitting in my verandah when I heard two gunshots. I ran to Chawla’s house and found the gate open. He was lying on the ground, bleeding profusely. He gave me Neeraj’s phone number. The assailants were not wearing masks, but I could only see their backs.”
Pankaj Mutneja, managing director and senior surgeon at Prem Hospital, where Chawla is admitted, said, “We operated on the patient and two crude bullets, from country made weapons, were removed from his body. The patient is stable.”
A former aide of Asaram, Chawla was one of the key witnesses in the rape case, in which the self-styled godman and his son were sent to jail in December, 2013. Asaram and his son were accused of sexual assault by two sisters from Surat.
Chawla had been getting threat calls ever since he testified, his friends and relatives claimed. Neeraj claimed he had given recordings of such calls to the police.