When the BJP picked Keshav Prasad Maurya as its party chief in Uttar Pradesh on April 8, it referred to him as someone who “will be able to take everyone along”. Two days later, the party expelled the Allahabad district unit secretary of its Mahila Morcha, Rajeshwari Patel, for questioning Maurya’s appointment on the ground that a “criminal case had been lodged against him”.
The case pertains to the suspected murder of a farmer, Ghulam Gaus alias Chand Khan, in 2011, in which Maurya was named as an accused along with three others. The four were acquitted on May 21, 2015, after six witnesses in the case turned hostile.
On Tuesday, the victim’s elder brother Nafees Khan, one of the men who turned hostile in court, told The Indian Express that they “decided to end the matter forever” because “nobody came forward to support” them and they could not “afford enmity with Maurya”.
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“What else could we have done? We are poor people. We are supporters of the Samajwadi Party but nobody came forward to support us. He (Maurya) was an MLA then (at the time of his arrest). Do you think we can afford enmity with him? So all of us (the witnesses) decided to end the matter forever, and we did not speak anything against Maurya and the others,” said Nafees, a resident of Nanmai village who was the complainant and the prime witness in the case.
After the witnesses failed to back the police chargesheet during trial, additional district and session judge R N Pandey acquitted the four accused, giving them benefit of doubt.
“Please do not try to make it an issue. I don’t want to pursue this matter any more because Maurya is a big man now and it would not be safe for our family,” said Nafees, 60, the eldest of six brothers. “We are thankful to the BSP government, which had got the case registered (in 2011). After the Samajwadi Party came to power, no one helped us in the fight. There was no threat to us from the accused.”
The other witnesses included the victim’s cousins, Shahzade and Kabir, a distant relative, Shakeel, and two neighbours, Javed and Badru. They were not present in the village Tuesday.
When contacted, Maurya denied that the witnesses had turned hostile and said the case was lodged because of “political reasons”. “That was not a murder. That man died because of an accident but a murder case was lodged. The post-mortem report states that he had died of an accident,” said Maurya, an MP from Allahabad’s Phulpur. A native of Kasia village, he was a VHP leader at the time of the murder in 2011. Kasia is about 8 km from Nanmai.
Maurya was charged with conspiracy to commit murder while three men known to be his supporters, Rakesh Kumar Chaurasia, Sant Lal Maurya and Ram Balak Maurya (not related to Maurya), were booked for murder.
According to the autopsy report, Chand Khan — a father of two children aged five and seven — died on August 31, 2011 after sustaining injuries to the head. According to the FIR, the incident took place around 6 am on Eid. Chand asked his neighbours to stop playing the loudspeaker on high volume as it was time for namaz. Following a heated exchange, Ram Balak, Rakesh and Sant Lal “strangled” the victim after being “provoked” by Maurya, the FIR stated.
According to police, Nafees got an FIR registered against the three men for murder (IPC Section 302), and against Keshav Prasad Maurya for conspiracy (Section 120 B) and under Section 7 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, accusing him of provoking the three men.
But the case took a turn in court. “Six prime witnesses in the case, including the complainant Nafees Khan, did not support the prosecution theory and were declared hostile. Nafees also did not support the contents of the FIR. No appeal against the acquittal has been filed,” said Ghanshyam Kumar, Government counsel, Kaushambi. “All four accused were arrested and sent to jail. But at the time of judgment, all of them were out on bail.”
Sant Lal currently works in a private bank, while Ram Balak is employed in a local school. Rakesh Kumar is settled in Mumbai.