On Saturday, Union minister and Hazaribagh MP Jayant Sinha tweeted that he “unequivocally condemns all acts of violence and rejects any type of vigilantism” and is committed to “honouring the due process of law”. This, after he welcomed, with garlands and sweets, six men out on bail who had earlier been convicted by a fast-track court of lynching a meat trader in Jharkhand. And posed with them for pictures.
On July 4, when seven of the 11 men convicted of the 2017 lynching of Jharkhand meat trader Alimuddin Ansari walked out of jail after the High Court ordered their release on bail, six of them were taken straight to Sinha’s residence in Hazaribagh, where the minister welcomed them.
I have full faith in our judicial system and the rule of law. Unfortunately, irresponsible statements are being made about my actions when all that I am doing is honoring the due process of law. Those that are innocent will be spared and the guilty will be appropriately punished.
— Jayant Sinha (@jayantsinha) July 7, 2018
Ironically, the photograph of the minister with the six men has set off a tussle within the party — not over its propriety but over who deserves credit for getting the men bail.
A group in the party led by former Ramgarh MLA Shankar Chowdhary has objected to the minister “trying to take credit”, saying it was he who led the agitation for the release of the men.
Ramgarh district BJP president Pappu Bannerjee, who took the men to the minister’s residence, said the “perception that the minister came into the picture at a later stage is wrong”. “He was keeping an eye on the whole thing. We never expected the kind of judgement that was delivered by the trial court. We realised we had to fight the case in the High Court strongly. So, Sinhaji met the advocate who was fighting the case and took things forward from there,” he said.
On June 29, 2017, Ansari had been intercepted in Ramgarh town of Jharkhand by a group of cow vigilantes. His Maruti van had been burnt, the meat in it strewn on the road and he was assaulted. He later succumbed to his injuries. Subsequently, police arrested 12 people, one a juvenile. On March 21 this year, a fast track court in Ramgarh convicted them and later sentenced them to life.
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On June 29, the Jharkhand High Court released eight of the accused on bail, citing “lack of evidence of specific assault” against them. While seven of the eight accused – Bajrang Dal member Santosh Singh, Rohit Thakur, Kapil Thakur, Uttam Ram, Raju Kumar Mahato, Vicky Sao and Sikander Ram – were released from the Jai Prakash Narain Central jail in Hazaribagh on July 4, the eighth accused, district BJP media cell incharge Nityanand Mahato, was released a day earlier.
While Sinha could not be contacted despite repeated efforts, he put out several tweets.
In one of the tweets on Saturday, the Union minister said, “In the Ramgarh case, the Honourable Ranchi High Court, which is the first court of appeal, has suspended the sentence of the accused and released them on bail while admitting their case. The case will be re-heard… I have repeatedly expressed my misgivings about the Fast-Track Court judgement sentencing each accused to life imprisonment. I am happy that the High Court would hear the matter as a statutory court of appeal to test the correctness of the Fast-Track Court order.”
While saying that he “unequivocally condemns all acts of violence and rejects any type of vigilantism”, he went on to tweet that he was only “honouring the due process of law” by speaking out for the men. “I have full faith in the judicial system and the rule of law. Unfortunately, irresponsible statements are being made about my actions when all I am doing is honouring the due process of law. Those that are innocent will be spared and the guilty will be appropriately punished,” he said in another tweet.
After the Ramgarh fast track court had convicted all the 11 accused, Sinha had said that “complete justice” had not been meted out to the men. He had said that he had dwelt upon the legal issues involved in the case and had also decided to request Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das to order a CBI inquiry into the case. Promising legal assistance to the accused, he had said that it was the legal right of the accused to go in appeal.
Recalling the sequence of events of July 4, Chowdhary, the former Ramgarh MLA who is now upset with Sinha for taking credit for the release of the seven men, said, “On July 4, our team had gone to the jail in three-four vehicles. But we saw Jayant Sinha’s men getting ahead of us in the heavy rain, quickly putting the accused and their families in their vehicles and leaving. Today, another accused has been released and only we were there. On July 3, Nityanand came home with us. It is unfortunate that people are trying to take credit when we were the ones who carried out the agitation on the ground.” Chowdhary had formed a forum called the Atal Vichar Manch to demand a CBI inquiry into the case.
Bannerjee, the district BJP president who took the accused to the minister’s house, said, “It was not a pre-planned programme. One of our non-political friends had brought garlands for the accused who were coming out of jail. We – a couple of office-bearers and I – had reached there in three-four vehicles, all of us in separate cars. No vehicle was hired for this.
“When we reached there, the families of the accused said they wanted to meet the minister and thank him since he had worked so hard for them. We couldn’t refuse. Incidentally, Sinhaji was to reach his residence that very day, so we took them there. We didn’t realise it would be so controversial,” he said.
Advocate B M Tripathi, who represented the accused in the fast track court and in the High Court said, “We argued strongly in the High Court and the court was pleased to grant bail to the accused.” He also said the minister had met him and “explained the facts of the case” to him.
The eight accused, while claiming innocence in the lynching case, said they were grateful to “all those who helped them”.
Rohit Thakur, 30, who is down with a urinary infection, said he reached home on his own – he was not among those who was taken to the minister’s house.
“My elder brother had come to the jail to fetch me. We came home in the vehicle he had arranged,” said Rohit as he lay on his bed at his home in Hesla village of Ramgarh. While saying he was framed in the lynching case, Rohit said, “That day, I had gone out to buy medicines when the incident happened. I was only watching, but was arrested on charges of assaulting the man.”
Kapil Thakur, another accused who visited the minister, lives next door to Rohit. Though Kapil’s father Tuleshwar Prasad claimed “nobody came to help” the family, a month ago, he said, former MLA Chowdhary had visited the family and assured them that Rohit would be released soon. “I don’t know who is saying what. Our own relatives helped with money to fight the case. I worked as a guard, but had to stop working after my son was arrested. He has done his ITI and was studying for a railway job, but now he will have to do something else,” he said, before adding, “I heard that he (Chowdhary) is not happy about my son going to meet the minister.”
Twenty km from Ramgarh is Chitarpur, home to Raju Kumar Mahato, who was accused of trailing Ansari’s van that day and passing on information to Bajrang Dal members. Though his father Mahavir Mahto is seen with Raju Kumar in the photograph with the minister, he refused to discuss the matter.
The family of Santosh Singh, another accused who lives near the Ramgarh Railway station, refused to interact, claiming he was not home.
Nityanand Mahato, the district BJP media cell incharge who was released on bail from jail a day ahead of the others, said, “I am thankful to everybody who helped us. The manner of their help may have been different, but everything counts.”
Nityanand, however, said that had it not been for his elder brother, the fight would have been very tough. “He looked after my family,” he said, adding that the family had to mortgage four decimal land to meet legal costs.
At his home in Manua village in Ramgarh, Ansari’s son Shahjad Ansari said, “We want justice. We are looking to go to Supreme Court against the bail order. But it will take time.”
Later in the day, Sinha’s father and former BJP leader Yashwant Sinha tweeted, saying, “Earlier, I was the nalayak baap of a Layak Beta (the worthless father of a worthy son). Now the roles are reversed. That is twitter. I do not approve of my son’s action. But I know even this will lead to further abuse.”