Senior Gujarat BJP leader and former MLA Jayanti Bhanushali was shot dead by unidentified assailants in the Mumbai-bound Sayaji Nagri Express train in the early hours of Tuesday.
In a complaint to the police, his family has accused Chhabil Patel, a political rival in the BJP, among four others, including Patel’s son Siddharth, for the crime.
Bhanushali, 56, 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 somewhere between Gandhidham and Samakhiali stations, in Kutch district.
The assailants are suspected to have pulled the chain, forced the train to stop and escaped after shooting Bhanushali. He was shot on the chest and one eye.
DGP, CID (Crime & Railways), Ashish Bhatia said, “Primary investigation suggests Bhanushali was shot with a countrymade pistol. There seems to be signs of scuffle and misfiring; nothing conclusive can said as of now. We have formed a special investigation team to probe the case.”
Bhanushali’s nephew Sunil Bhanushali lodged a complaint at Gandhidham police station, accusing Chhabil Patel, a former Congress MLA who defected to BJP in 2014, of killing his uncle over political rivalry.
According to police, Bhanushali was travelling in the coupe (first-class coaches have two-berth coupes) with a co-passenger named Pawan More, who boarded at Gandhidham. An officer said sometime between 12.30 am and 1 am, More, who has told police that he suffers from prostate problems, went to the lavatory and returned nearly half-an-hour later.
“Upon his return, he told us he found Bhanushali lying on the floor. More alerted the ticket collector,” an officer involved in the probe said.
Bhanushali was elected to the Assembly from Abdasa, in Kutch district, in 2007. He lost the 2012 elections to Chhabil Patel, then with Congress. Within two years Patel defected to BJP and got the party’s ticket from Abdasa for 2017 elections, which reportedly made Bhanushali unhappy. Patel lost to Congress’s Pradyuman Jadeja in the election.
The police found Bhanushali’s gun in a plastic pouch in his suitcase – it was not touched. The police ruled out robbery as a motive for the murder, as his luggage remained untouched.
According to the complaint, Bhanushali met the DGP in state capital Gandhinagar on December 7, and gave a written complaint, alleging that Chhabil Patel was trying to frame him due to political rivalry.
Surat police had booked Bhanushali in July 2018 after a 21-year old woman filed a complaint alleging that the BJP leader raped her repeatedly. Bhanushali resigned as vice-president of Gujarat BJP after the FIR. The High Court quashed the FIR after the woman said she did not want to pursue the case. —With inputs from Kamaal Saiyed in Surat
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