Two days after one of the prime witnesses in the rape case against Asaram Bapu was gunned down near his house in Muzaffarnagar, police claimed they were investigating all possible angles and were not ruling out any link to the self-styled godman.
SSP Muzaffarnagar H N Singh told The Indian Express, “There are lots of factors we need to consider while investigating the case. All angles are being investigated and we are not ruling out anything including possible links to Asaram.”
On January 11, Akhil Gupta was returning home from his milk agency — ‘Ananda Dairy’ — on his scooter when two men on a motorcycle approached him from behind and shot him at point blank range. The bullet hit the 35-year-old in his spinal cord, killing him on the spot.
In the FIR registered at the Nai Mandi police station in Muzaffarnagar city, Gupta’s family alleged that he “was under threat since he was an important witness in the rape case registered against Asaram Bapu”.
Police said investigations suggest the killers were “outsiders” and had conducted a recce several times before carrying out the murder. “It was a well-planned murder since, according to Gupta’s family members, ever since he became a witness in the case, he would take a different route everyday from his shop to home. Perhaps he knew he was being tracked. But the road leading to his house made him vulnerable… there is just one approach road to his house at Geeta Enclave,” said a senior police officer.
Pointing to the possible involvement of outsiders, Circle Officer Karamvir Singh said, “The bullet used in the killing is from a 12 bore pistol, but its parts are not available locally. The bullet has been sent for a forensic examination.”
Gupta, a science graduate from DAV College in Muzaffarnagar, earlier lived with his parents and elder brother Rohit at their ancestral house in Abupura, Muzaffarnagar. While Rohit went on to pursue his engineering and left for the Middle-East, Gupta and his parents continued to live in Abupura.
A senior police officer said, “Sometime in 1996, Gupta and his family attended one of Asaram’s camps here and soon became regulars at his camps in Delhi and elsewhere. The family used to run a printing press by the name Alankar Printing Press. The same year, they left for Asaram’s ashram in Ahmedabad and served there for the next eight years. Gupta’s parents were made incharge of Asaram’s monthly publication ‘Rishi Prasad Patrika’ while Gupta became incharge of the kitchen and would spend time serving Asaram personally.”
Reportedly, it was at the ashram that Gupta met Varsha, a graduate from Raipur in Chhattisgarh. The two fell in love and decided to marry. However, Asaram objected to the marriage. Suddenly, in 2008, Gupta and Varsha returned to Muzaffarnagar with their families.
“Whenever we asked them why they suddenly chose to return, all Gupta would say was that he was fed up of the bad things that were happening at the ashram. He never really told us what happened there,” said Priyanka, a relative. The same year, Gupta and Varsha got married in Delhi and began living in Muzaffarnagar. They have two sons, aged five and two.
In 2013, when the rape case against Asaram surfaced, Ahmedabad Police came to Gupta’s house and took him and Varsha for questioning. They were questioned for five days after which they were flown back in an Air India flight. Following this, the Ahmedabad Police intimated the Muzaffarnagar Police about the threat to Gupta’s life and asked it to give him security.
Gupta’s family members claimed that despite repeated requests, no security was provided. However, SSP Singh said, “We have no such information.” Soon after his return from Ahmedabad, Gupta had moved to the Geeta Enclave house. Neighbours said the family used to keep to themselves.