Gujarat BJP leader Chhabil Patel, who has been booked for the murder of Jayanti Bhanushali on the basis of a complaint filed by the former MLA’s family, is believed to have flown to the United States, according to the Gujarat Police.
Investigators said Patel, who is now a “prime accused” in the murder case, left the country soon after the former BJP MLA was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the Mumbai-bound Sayaji Nagri Express train. Deputy Superintendent of Police Jagdishsinh Raol, who is part of the Special investigation Team probing the murder, told The Indian Express that Patel took a 5 am flight from Ahmedabad airport on Tuesday.
A senior police officer said that although Patel has been booked for murder as per the allegation levelled by the complainant Sunil Bhanushali, there is no evidence against him yet.
Meanwhile, in another breakthrough in the investigation, police said Bhanushali’s co-passenger Pawan More had told them that he had witnessed the murder in which two “unidentified assailants” were involved. More had earlier told the police that he had gone to the washroom and on return he found Bhanushali dead.
“Initially, More told us that he didn’t see anything and that he was in the lavatory as he suffers from prostate complication. Later, he opened up and narrated the truth” said a senior police officer on the condition of anonymity.
According to the officer, More told the police that there was a knock on the door of their first class coupe around 12:30 am. “He said that Bhanushali opened the door. There were two persons at the door and a scuffle broke out between the assailants and Bhanushali. More, meanwhile, pretended to remain asleep and kept himself covered under the blanket. He told the police that one of the assailants fired from close range and the bullet hit Bhanushali in the chest. He fell on the carpet when the second bullet pierced through his eyes. The duo then left the coupe and pulled the chain to stop the train,” the officer added.
“The accused will be caught soon as they have left many clues,” another police officer involved in the investigation said. According to the officer, the kind of firearms — countrymade pistol with 7.65 mm calibre cartridge — used by the assailants indicated that they were not professionals.
The SIT, comprising officers from Gujarat CID (Crime and Railway), Gujarat Anti-Terrorist Squad and Ahmedabad Detection of Crime Branch, also tried to recreate the crime scene as described by More. The investigators also recorded statements of about 17 to 20 persons travelling in the train that night.
Bhanushali, 56, had boarded the first-class coach of the Bhuj-Dadar train at Bhuj late Monday night, and was to get off at Ahmedabad early Tuesday morning. The police said he was shot between 12.30 am and 1 am, when the train was between Gandhidham and Samakhiali stations in Kutch district.
In a complaint to the police, Bhanushali’s family has accused Patel, a former Congress MLA who defected to BJP in 2014, of killing the former MLA over political rivalry. The family has accused three others, including Patel’s son Siddharth, of being involved in the murder.
Bhanushali was elected to the Assembly from Abdasa in Kutch district in 2007. He lost the 2012 elections to Patel, then with Congress. Within two years, Patel defected to the BJP and got the party’s ticket from Abdasa for the 2017 Assembly elections, which reportedly made Bhanushali unhappy.
Bhanushali’s nephew Sunil, who has lodged the complaint with police, said, “We only want justice in this case. Train is considered to be a very safe mode of transport. And if a person is killed like this in a train, I am afraid Gujarat will soon turn into states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.”
Bhanushali was cremated in Ahmedabad on Wednesday afternoon. Several BJP leaders were present at the funeral. BJP leaders who met Bhanushali’s family members included senior cabinet ministers R C Faldu and Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Minister of State Vasan Ahir, senior BJP leader Gordhan Zadaphia, Gujarat BJP organising secretary Bhikhubhai Dalsaniya, former ministers Ramanlal Vora, Tarachand Chheda and Nirmala Wadhwani, Bhuj MLA Nimaben Acharya, Gandhidham MLA Malti Maheshwari, Kutch MP Vinod Chavda, Ahmedabad City BJP president Jagdish Panchal and former Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel, among others.
At the crematorium, Bhanushali’s daughter, Khushali, fell unconscious and was taken to the hospital of former minister Nirmala Wadhwani. Speaking to The Indian Express, Wadhwani said, “She had low blood pressure. She was discharged from the hospital in the evening.”