AS they put together the sequence of events leading to the lynching of meat trader Alimuddin Ansari in Ramgarh in Jharkhand on June 29, police are zeroing in on the involvement of members of a cow-protection group, who may have been later joined by members of the public.
Among the three arrested so far, of the 12 named, are Nityanand Mahato, co-in-charge of the BJP’s district media cell of Ramgarh, Santosh Singh, with links to a local Gau Raksha Samiti, and a youth barely out of his teens, Chhotu Rana, who runs a chicken shop and is not believed to have any association with any right-wing organisation.
On Sunday, the BJP was at pains to underline that Mahato was “a dedicated party worker”, with “nothing to do with the Bajrang Dal or Gau Raksha Samiti”. They also accused police of failing to check “illegal slaughter” in the area.
Police officials, who refused to come on record, said the remaining nine named in the FIR also include some members of the cow-protection group as well as “bystanders” who joined in after the thrashing began. “There are photographs with us in which youngsters are seen beating Ansari,” said a source.
Police are also trying to determine who tipped off the gau raksha samiti about Ansari passing through Bazar Tand, where the incident occurred, purportedly carrying beef in his van. It was Rana’s photo that went viral, showing him beating Ansari with what looked like a police baton. Ansari’s family has said that he snatched it from police.
Ramgarh Superintendent of Police Kishore Kaushal has denied this. “First, such batons are available in stores for less than Rs 200. There is no footage or photograph showing that the baton was snatched by the accused from police. Also, police immediately took the victim into custody. We will be taking Rana on remand and questioning him on where he bought the baton from and why,” he said.
A police officer associated with the case said Rana, the son of a mechanic whose chicken shop is located in Bazar Tand, “has nothing to do with any right-wing organisation or activity”. “He was an onlooker… does not have any previous criminal record.”
District BJP leaders cited the political background of Mahato to show he “did not come from a right-wing background”. He started out with the All-Jharkhand Students’ Union (AJSU), an ally of the BJP in the government, nearly 10 years ago. Later, he formed his own outfit, AJSU (Negative), before joining the Lok Janshakti Party of Ram Vilas Paswan. He crossed over to the BJP a little over five years ago.
“He is a dedicated party worker and strictly associated with the party’s programmes. He never had anything to do with the Bajrang Dal or the Gau Raksha Samiti. He only reached there because the place is near his house. Do police have any photo or video showing him raising any inflammatory slogan or asking people to take law into their own hands? Then why do police think that mere presence at such a spot is a crime?” said Sanjay Singh, a member of the BJP state executive.
Earlier, the district BJP chief, Shiv Shankar Banerjee, had defended Mahato, telling police not to harass “innocents”. A police officer said, “We are investigating several strands. His exact role is being ascertained.”
BJP leaders also claimed that illegal slaughter was rampant in Chitarpur area of the district, from where Ansari was reportedly driving to Ramgarh, and asked why police had not been able to crack down on it. “Cow slaughter is banned in Jharkhand since 2005. Police know what goes on in Chitarpur but do not stop that. They are currently focusing only on who was at the spot,” said Sanjay Singh.
How Ansari procured the alleged beef and supplied it in different areas is part of another police investigation. The third accused to be arrested, Santosh Singh, reportedly earned money supplying materials on his tractor. Police have confirmed his presence on the spot at the time of the lynching and are looking into his association with Dipak Mishra and Chhotu Verma, who are known to be engaged in “cow protection” in the area and are also named in the FIR.
A local source said, “Along with Mishra and Verma, he would often be seen sitting at an eatery. But his involvement with issues like cows was limited to the fact that he knew them and would join them once a while in their activities.”