Gujarat Police on Sunday launched a manhunt to nab former MLA Mahipatsinh Jadeja who has been named as main accused in the alleged assault on four Indian Forest Service (IFS) probationers, including a bid to run them over with an SUV, at a petrol pump in Rajkot district.
Senior police officers said that the SUV, owned by Jadeja, has been seized and raids conducted at more than 15 locations to nab the controversial politician. The injured probationers were rushed to a private hospital near the site of the attack Saturday morning in Ribda village of Gondal taluka on NH27, said police, adding that one suffered injuries to the head while another suffered a fracture.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Rajkot Rural SP Antrip Sood said Ribda resident Jadeja was identified as the main accused from CCTV footage of the incident. “We raided premises in Gondal taluka and in Rajkot city… we are confident of making more arrests very soon,” said Sood.
Late Sunday, Gondal Taluka police arrested Aravind Rajani, the man who allegedly drove the SUV. “The SUV was found abandoned near a toll plaza 9 km south of the crime scene,” said Gondal Taluka police sub-inspector Pradipsinh Gohil, who is investigating the case.
According to police, the incident occurred when a bus and a car carrying a group of 47 IFS probationers halted at the Ashapura petrol pump. The probationers were on their way from Junagadh to Ahmedabad after completing a 23-day tour of western India as part of their training.
According to police, one the probationers, Vipinkumar Kuswaha, was abused verbally by two men before being beaten by sticks. When the three other probationers rushed to help him, a third accused tried to run them over, leaving Sunilkumar Thalor, Rahul Kumar and Pankajkumar Garg injured.
Based on Kuswaha’s complaint, Gondal Taluka police booked three unidentified men under various IPC Sections, including 308 (attempt to commit culpable homicide not amounting to murder) and 323 (voluntarily causing hurt).
The Rajkot Rural SP said the motive behind the attack was still under investigation. But K Sasikumar, course director of the probationers, told The Indian Express that the assault was “completely unprovoked”. “One of the probationers was smoking near the corner of a compound… The accused started abusing Kuswaha over smoking and later charged at him,” he said.
Asked about allegations that a probationer was urinating in front of a house, which provoked the attack, Kumar said, “These are all-India service probationers and nobody in their right mind would urinate in front of anybody’s house.”
The course director said that Kuswaha sustained injuries on his head and forehead while Thalor fainted after being hit by the SUV. Garg sustained a fracture while Rahul Kumar suffered a concussion leading to a “temporary memory loss”, he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Kuswaha, “I was hit with a lathi and was bleeding profusely from the forehead. I was rushed to a local hospital in Rajkot where I received three stitches just above his right eye.”
Rahul Kumar said they were “ambushed” soon after the assault on Kuswaha. “While we were trying to ascertain what had happened, the white Scorpio came from behind and hit us. Pankaj was hit on the back while Garg and I were hit from the side,” he said.
The probationers caught a flight from Ahmedabad on Saturday evening for their return trip to the Dehradun-based Indira Gandhi National Forest Academy (IGNFA).
When contacted, Dr Shashi Kumar, director of IGNFA, said, “We have already filed an FIR. Once I receive more details, I will take up the matter with the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change.”