Death in the Congress

At the Latur Cong HQ, they dismiss the murder as fallout of a personal issue.

Written by Shubhangi Khapre | Published:April 13, 2014 12:23 am
The Giris at their home. Sister Shakti says Kalpana was planning to quit politics after the Lok Sabha polls. machindra amle The Giris at their home. Sister Shakti says Kalpana was planning to quit politics after the Lok Sabha polls. machindra amle

Kalpana Giri was re-elected as gen secy of Youth Congress in Latur in January. Two months later, she was mysteriously killed. As police grapple with the case and politicians exploit it, her family lives in fear and says Kalpana’s biggest mistake was taking on senior Congress leaders to contest for the post.

“If only she hadn’t joined politics,” says a teary-eyed Mangal Giri, showing the medals and certificates his daughter Kalpana received in her short life.

Five years ago, Giri had been a proud father when Kalpana joined the Congress in Latur. By 2011, she had risen to become the general secretary of the Youth Congress (Latur), and won a re-election to the post in January this year. On March 21, 26-year-old Kalpana Giri’s fast rise in the Congress ended abruptly with her death. Two Congress leaders have been arrested in the case.

It was a Holi the Giri family is unlikely to forget. Kalpana left home at 7.30 am for the Congress office saying she had to attend celebrations for the birthday of Latur MLA Amit Deshmukh, the son of the late Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh. She told her parents she would be back home by lunch.

When Kalpana didn’t return till 2 pm, her mother Pushpabai phoned her. She says Kalpana whispered, “I will be back in an hour.”

When she didn’t return till late evening, her father called up her Congress colleague and friend Mahendrasingh Chauhan. He expressed ignorance about her whereabouts.

The worried parents lodged a missing complaint with the police. Around 48 hours later, they were informed that Kalpana’s body had been fished out of a pond on the highway to Tuljapur, 60 km from Latur. “Her body was bloated. Her face had acid burns. One of her eyes had popped out, and the tongue had been cut out. My lively daughter was reduced to a corpse,” says Giri.

Kalpana was the first in her middle-class family to join politics. Her mother is a housewife, and her father served in the Army’s Maratha Regiment as a soldier, retiring as a hawaldar. Today, they live on the rent from the top floor of their modest two-storey house located in a narrow lane in Latur’s Pratap Nagar area.

Kalpana, say her parents, “was always socially active”. At school, she would take part in debates and other extra-curricular activities. She later studied law (LLB) “so that she could do something for the public”. “She was always fascinated by politics, especially the Congress. She was inspired by Vilasrao Deshmukh, who was from Latur, as well as Rajiv and Sonia Gandhi. She would say she wanted to join the Congress,” says Giri.

In 2009, she joined the party, and worked on women’s issues in Latur. She formed a women’s wing called Yuvati Congress, and managed to enrol 500 women in the party. The effort was lauded by the Congress, but since she could not get the women to consistently attend party programmes, she shifted to the Youth Congress, Latur, in 2010. The following year, she contested the elections for the post of general secretary and won. At the expiry of her three-year term, she decided to contest again. The Latur Congress functionaries, including Amit and brother and Youth Congress leader Dheeraj Deshmukh, objected, saying others should get a chance. But Kalpana went ahead and contested the election on January 14, defeating the official nominee by 18 votes. That, believes her father, was “her biggest mistake”. “It was a fatal move that made her a victim of dirty politics,” says Giri, who believes that Kalpana’s confidence and quick rise had become an eyesore for many in the party. “Her colleagues envied her rise and ability,” he says.

That envy manifested in “humiliations and threats”. “There was something that worried her and she often said there was a threat to her life,” says her brother Ganesh, who is also studying law. She confided in her elder sister Shakti, who is preparing for her post-graduation, that she would quit politics after the Lok Sabha polls and practise law. “She was campaigning for the Congress, so she planned to wait till the polls got over, after which, she had decided, she would become a lawyer,” she says. She also filled the application form of the Maharashtra Public Service Commission exam “just a day before her murder”, says Pushpabai.

The family is sceptical about the investigations into her murder. So far, two persons — Mahendrasingh Chauhan, president of the Youth Congress, Latur, and son of senior Congress leader Vikramsingh Chauhan, and Sammer Khillarikar, also a Congress member — have been arrested based on the CCTV footage of the Congress office that showed Kalpana was in the company of the the duo. But beyond this possible evidence, the police are clueless about the case. At the Latur police headquarters, nobody wants to discuss it. A senior police officer, on condition of anonymity, says, “The real motive of Chauhan and Khillarikar is unclear as they were Kalpana’s colleagues.” The police are exploring various angles, including conspiracy and differences between Kalpana and Chauhan.

At the Latur Congress headquarters, everybody dismisses the murder mystery as an outcome of a personal issue they are unaware of. A senior functionary says, “It’s a private matter, and the party has nothing to do with it. Yes, these youth workers may have assembled here on Holi, but there were no celebrations for Deshmukh’s birthday.”

Kalpana’s family is unconvinced by the explanation. “On March 21 and 22, I went looking for her at the Congress office and asked the watchman if anyone was there. He told me that two big vehicles carrying people left the venue,” says Giri. Pushpabai feels that the injuries on Kalpana’s knees and hands, as well as acid marks on her face, “could not have been inflicted upon by just two persons”. What also remains unanswered is Kalpana’s journey between the Congress office in Latur and Tuljapur.

The post-mortem report is not yet out, but Kalpana’s parents are convinced that “it was a case of rape and murder”. Giri also worries that his daughter’s character may be questioned. “To cover their own crime and guard the party’s image, they may accuse her of baseless charges,” he says. What infuriates Giri further is the Congress’s “non-cooperation”. “Her two-wheeler was parked outside the Congress office. I spotted it a day after she was untraceable but all Youth Congress leaders refused to cooperate,” he says, adding that he suspects foul play on the party’s part. “I repeatedly sought help from Mahendrasingh who himself committed the crime. They have destroyed the evidence. They threw her mobile in the well, it was recovered,” he says.

As the family grapples with their daughter’s murder mystery, political parties are drawing mileage out of it in election season. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, on April 9 met Kalpana’s parents at his Latur rally and assured he would look into the case. Modi wanted to meet the parents at their home in Latur but the local police refused permission for security reasons. The parents were not allowed to meet Modi at the airport. So, the BJP local organisers took Kalpana’s parents to Latur Sports complex, the venue of Modi’s rally. On the dais, the Giris submitted a letter to Modi which listed the case details, and demands like CBI inquiry and death sentence to the culprits.

In other, less grand displays of sympathy, Shiv Sena leader Neelam Gorhe met the family and the BJP’s Vinod Tawde raised the issue at a rally in Latur.

The embarrassed Congress is playing up its “immediate” expulsion of Mahendrasingh Chauhan, and the visits of Amit and Dheeraj Deshmukh to the family. “We have already expelled Chauhan. The party cannot justify such a crime,” says Dattatraya Bansode, the Congress candidate for the Latur Lok Sabha seat. About the tardy police investigation, he says, “What can I say about the case? The police will investigate and deliver justice to the family of the victim.”

At Mahendrasingh’s residence, where there are prominent photos of father Vikramsingh greeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, there is palpable tension. His younger brother Dharmendra, who claims to be in a state of shock and tension, says: “I really won’t be able to speak anything about the case.”

While Mahendrasingh’s mother refuses to talk, the family says father Vikramsingh is unwell.

Meanwhile, the Giris live in fear “of those at large and those arrested who come from powerful political families”, and have asked for police protection. Two policemen work in shifts, guarding their house. “I was just telling my son, let’s move out of this city. How long are we going to stay indoors?” says Pushpabai.

The Giris, who belong to the Gosavi community that bury their dead, have buried Kalpana in an open plot behind their home. The parents point to a samadhi that is being constructed for her. “I had kept this plot for Kalpana. This house where we live will go to my elder daughter. Another plot nearby is for my son.” It’s an irony that Kalpana has already occupied her place for all time to come.

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