The acquittal of ABVP activists in the Prof H S Sabharwal murder case did not come as a surprise to any one in BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh,where the investigators were answerable to a Chief Minister who was once the national president of the students organisation. Prof Sabharwal,who headed the Political Science department of Madhav College in Ujjain,was allegedly beaten to death by a group of students who held him responsible for cancelling the students elections in August 2006.
From declaring Prof Sabharwals death an accident within days of the incident,to calling on one of the accused in an Indore hospital much later,Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had come under fire for not only going soft on the accused,but also trying to influence the course of investigations. Chouhan maintained that his rendezvous with Vimal Tomar was also an accident,as he was on a sudden inspection of the M Y Hospital and just happened to meet him along with other patients. Incidentally,the Chief Ministers hospital visit had come a day before the Supreme Court was to hear the petition to move the trial outside MP.
On Monday,Chouhan welcomed the Nagpur courts verdict saying he always knew it wasnt a murder. He was not the only BJP leader to welcome the judgment. A day later,after being released from a Nagpur jail late on Monday,the ABVP activists returned to Madhya Pradesh like heroes. After their felicitation in Bhopal,they were expected to offer prayers at the famous Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain. Though Shashiranjan Akela,who then headed the ABVPs state unit,and Vimal Tomar,who was general secretary,had been stripped of their posts,the Parishad activists erupted in celebration on hearing of the acquital. They shouted slogans and took out a rally in Ujjain late on Monday. Meanwhile,the National Students Union of India,the students body of the Congress,held a protest outside the Madhav College demanding a CBI probe.
The investigation in the murder had been handed over to the CID when there was a clamour for the CBI to take over the case. The arrests had taken a long time.
Why did Chouhan not commit himself to appealing against the verdict? Why was no action taken against policemen who turned hostile? asked Prof Sabharwals son Himanshu. He told The Indian Express that he would write a letter to the Chief Minister holding him responsible for the course of events.
If the police had shown any semblance of urgency it was only to defuse the tremendous pressure built up by the media in the wake of nationwide outcry over the way a professor was done to death on campus. Inspectors Y Runwal and Y P Singh,who had been suspended after the incident,were long reinstated,though they have been transferred out of the district. Four constablesSukhnandan,Dharasingh Chavda,Vikram Singh and Dilip Tripathiwho went back on their statements,have not been asked to explain their conduct. Action,if any,will follow only if theres a direction to that effect in the court judgment, a police officer said.
The case had been weakened much before the trial was shifted to Nagpur as eyewitness statements were not recorded under the Section 164 of the CrPC. College peon Komal Singh Sengar and teacher Manohar Dodiya,who had seen Prof Sabharwal being beaten up,also turned hostile in court,saying they only saw a mob attacking him but could not identify individuals. However,in the interviews to the media immediately after the incident,Sengar had named the ABVP activists.
Even while the witnesses were turning hostile during the Ujjain trial,the senior police officers kept saying that there were other witnesses and that the prosecution had circumstantial evidence. However,the Nagpur court did not agree,saying the prosecution has failed to put up evidence to prove the case.