The eight-year-old murder of a Congress legislator has caught up with Madhya Pradesh minister Lal Singh Arya and BJP MP Bhagirath Prasad, then with the Congress.
Makhanlal Jatav, first-time Congress MLA from Gohad, was shot dead on April 13, 2009, in Chhareta village when he was returning after campaigning for Prasad, then Congress candidate for Bhind Lok Sabha constituency.
Last week, a special court in Bhind made Arya, MoS for Narmada Valley Development and GAD, an accused after booking him under IPC sections 302 and 120 (b) (conspiracy). The court issued an arrest warrant but stayed it for 15 days to give the minister an opportunity to argue.
Prasad, an IAS officer before joining the Congress, had then blamed Arya for the murder. Now in the BJP, Prasad has said he had no evidence and that all “I had said was Arya could be responsible for the murder”.
Jatav’s murder took place five months after he had defeated Arya, his maiden victory in an assembly election. His two armed guards sat in the backseat of his Bolero while he sat in the front. He had halted the car and was speaking to villagers when two persons walked up and shot him twice with pistols.
Congress leaders then blamed Arya of having hatched the murder conspiracy. An FIR lodged by one of Jatav’s guards did not identify any killer. A case was registered against unknown persons.
At least three eyewitnesses named Arya saying he was present on the scene, but neither the police nor the CBI, which later took up the investigation later passed, made the BJP leader an accused saying there was no evidence to back the allegation.
While the trial against six other accused was on, Jatav’s younger son Arvind moved an application under CrPC section 311, saying he was an eyewitness and had heard Arya shout “Makhan ko maro, bachna nahi paye (Kill Makhan, he should not escape)”. Arvind sought that Arya, whose name did not figure in the chargesheet, be made an accused.
The arrest warrant has taken the minister and the BJP by surprise. The minister said he had full faith in the judiciary and that he would move Madhya Pradesh High Court. Arya claimed he was innocent and that separate probes by the CBI and the local police had found no evidence against him.
The BJP has backed the minister with state party chief Nandkumar Chouhan saying there was no need for him to resign. Asked for a comment, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan said the state party chief has already said what had to be said.
The Congress has asked the minster to resign and the CM to sack him. On Tuesday, Leader of the Opposition Ajay Singh and two senior Congress legislators dodged police to reach near the CM House where they sat on dharna demanding removal of the minister.
After Jatav’s murder, his elder son Ranveer Singh won the byelection to Gohad. In 2013, Ranveer was not the Congress candidate when Arya won.
“My father was a popular leader and Arya had sensed that he stood no chance as long as he was alive,’’ Ranveer told The Indian Express. He alleged that his father’s guard, being a policeman, had deliberately avoided naming Arya but there were other eyewitnesses whose accounts eventually prevailed leading to the arrest warrant.
Ranveer said that a few days before the murder, his father’s supporters had hurled stones at Arya when he reached an event late; and that Arya later filed an FIR.
Meanwhile, Prasad, whose vehicle was right behind Jatav’s, is struggling to explain his earlier statement to the police. Prasad, principal secretary (home) until his voluntary retirement in 2007, lost the 2009 Lok Sabha election on a Congress ticket, and got the ticket again in 2014 but defected to the BJP and went on to win from Bhind.
Contacted Wednesday, Prasad told The Indian Express his 2009 statement is now irrelevant and has no bearing on the trial. “Despite my statement, the CBI and the police had found no evidence against Arya. Even I did not have concrete evidence that Arya had ordered the killing. My statement at best was noncommittal,” he said, describing attempts to target him as “politically motivated.’’