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An order issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in December 2016 asking the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to take over the investigations into the October 16, 2016 murder of a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) leader in Bengaluru was set aside on Tuesday by the Karnataka High Court. A single-judge bench of the high court Justice John Michael Cunha set aside the order where the MHA – on its own and without the consent of the state of Karnataka – had ordered the NIA to take over investigations into the murder of the RSS leader R Rudresh.
The MHA’s order directing the NIA to take over the murder probe and the decision of the Bengaluru police to invoke provisions of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of 1967 in the murder case had been challenged in the court by Asim Shariff, a leader of the socio-political outfit the Popular Front of India and four others arrested by the Bengaluru police in the case.
The Bengaluru district president of the PFI Asim Shariff, 40, and others arrested in the case had argued that the MHA had not followed procedures while by-passing the state of Karnataka and ordering an NIA investigation in the Rudresh murder case. The MHA had argued that it enjoys the powers to issue suo motu orders for take over of a case in which the UAPA law is invoked.
While setting aside the NIA probe in the Rudresh murder case, the Karnataka High Court has not found fault with invoking of the UAPA law in the case by the Bengaluru police. The judge after setting aside the December 2016 MHA order for an NIA probe in the case also kept Tuesday’s order in suspension for a week following a request by the MHA for time to approach a higher court. The judge while keeping the order in suspension has stated that neither the NIA or the Bengaluru police should investigate the case in the intervening period.
RSS secretary R Rudresh, 37, was hacked to death on the Kamaraj Road in the heart of Bengaluru by two motorcycle borne men on the morning of October 16. The murder occurred shortly after the conclusion of an RSS route march in the sensitive Shivajinagar area. Based on leads provided by CCTV cameras located around the scene of the crime the Bengaluru police on October 27 arrested four locals Mohammed Sadiq alias Mohammed Mazar, 35, Mohammed Mujibulla alias Moula alias Mujib, 44, Wasim Ahmed, 30, and Irfan Pasha, 30, on charges of executing the murder. Based on the interrogation of the four men, the police arrested the Bengaluru district president of the Popular Front of India Asim Shariff, 40.
In November 2016, shortly after the arrest of Shariff, the Bengaluru police invoked the UAPA law – which is usually invoked in terrorism cases. In December, amid growing demands from the BJP in Karnataka the MHA had directed the NIA to investigate the case.
Last month, the NIA went before a trial court to seek the custody of Shariff for further investigations but the PFI leader filed a plea in the Karnataka High Court questioning the NIA’s involvement in the investigations and the invoking of the UAPA by the Bengaluru police. The PFI leader has argued that the Bengaluru police had not unearthed any material to prove that the murder is linked to terrorism. The NIA however argued that Shariff and others accused in the case were linked to members of terror groups like the Indian Mujahideen and the Al Ummah.
The NIA also argued that it needs to probe the PFI leader and others under the UAPA to establish whether the murders of many right-wing leaders in south India over the last few years are linked. The NIA argued that right-wing leaders were being targeted by trained assasins. The Karnataka High Court in its order on Tuesday allowed the invoking of the UAPA law in the case, but set aside the NIA investigation and asked the Bengaluru police to continue the probe.