MAHATMA GANDHI was shot dead on January 30, 1948. On January 30, 2019, a former mathematics teacher, an advocate and a teenager pumped three bullets into him from close quarters. As the Mahatma lay motionless in an Aligarh neighbourhood, an autorickshaw driver and a timber merchant torched the effigy. A small crowd cheered and distributed sweets.
The act of this motley group from the All India Hindu Mahasabha has since gone viral on the Internet in a 2.07-minute clip.
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Aligarh police have arrested six persons while the seven other accused are on the run, including “national secretary” of the Mahasabha, Pooja Shakun Pandey.
On Thursday, Gajendra Kumar Verma (59), the advocate who fired the “second bullet”, was granted interim bail until February 6 on “health grounds” by an additional chief judicial magistrate’s court.
At the Mahasabha’s local office in Naurangabad, meanwhile, the entrance opens to a small image of Lord Shiva, atop which hangs a banner that reads: “Nathuram Godse Amar Rahe, Veer Savarkar Amar Rahe”. Freshly painted and equipped with CCTVs, the office was inaugurated on January 29. Pandey’s residence, in the same neighbourhood, used to double up as the base earlier.
“Why do Gandhi’s ideas continue to resonate? We want to change that. And that is why we decided to recreate his killing. I joined the mahasabha because of its boldness in calling a spade a spade, that Gandhi stood for appeasement and played a major role behind the country’s partition. We don’t have much public base. But for revolutionary thoughts to take root, such extraordinary steps are required,” claims Verma, who practices in the Aligarh civil court.
“We planned the event over a week. To add effect, we decided to insert balloons filled with red-coloured water inside the effigy. We also called the local and national media to cover it. It is the media which made the video that is doing rounds,” he says.
Aligarh ASP Neeraj Kumar Jadaun says the FIR names 13 accused, of whom 11 are named, with charges including those under IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity), 295A (deliberate and malicious acts), 147, 148, 149, and Section 6 of the United Provinces Special Power Act.
The FIR states the gathering set the effigy afire around 12 pm on January 30, “despite warnings from Sub Inspector Sanjeev Kumar who was present on the spot”. “Two accused have been sent to jail. We have arrested three more — Rajeev, a shop-owner, Harishankar Sharma, who owns a timber business, and Jaiveer Sharma, a local resident. They will be produced in court Friday,” says Jadaun.
As for Pooja Pandey, sources say she had “launched” what she claims is the “country’s first Hindu court along the lines of Sharia courts in Islamic countries” in August 2018. Pandey, who once taught mathematics at a Noida institute, had also declared that had Godse not killed Gandhi, she would have. “She has been under the scanner for her controversial statements. We are trying to ascertain the source of her funding. Those arrested claim they did everything on her orders,” says Jadaun.
The youngest of that group, Abhishek (18), is Pandey’s nephew and a mahanagar mantri of the sabha’s Aligarh unit. He is a student of BBA at an institute in Ambala. “He stays with Pandey and her husband Ashoke (who is also on the run). Their two sons, aged 8 and 6, stay with us,” says Gunjan Aggarwal, Pandey’s sister-in-law.
Meanwhile, the wife and two children of Manoj Saini, the autorickshaw driver, are in the dark. A resident of Chandanaya mohalla, Saini started participating in activities of the mahasabha two years ago, says his wife. “Around eight-ten days ago, he became a full-time member but never discussed what he did. On Wednesday, he left home around 9.30 am. He did not call or return,” she says.
In the 2017 UP polls, all the seven assembly constituencies in Aligarh district were bagged by the BJP. Vivek Saraswat, the BJP’s city secretary, says the ruling party has nothing to do with “Pandey’s antics”.
According to a senior police officer, the town has not seen any communal clash in the recent past, although there was tension on January 23 and January 26 when the local unit of the BJP’s Yuva Morcha took out “Tiranga yatras” till the Aligarh Muslim University.