Political murders

What's behind the spate of attacks on BJP members in Uttar Pradesh

There have been five attacks on BJP leaders in nine days. Though the police deny it, the party says this is an attempt by the Samajwadi Party to take revenge for the Lok Sabha results.

The Bharatiya Janata Party might have swept Uttar Pradesh in the recent Lok Sabha election, but the northern state has turned into dangerous territory for its leaders. In just nine days, there have been five attacks on BJP leaders across the state. Three have been killed. There have also been reports of smaller clashes with party workers that have led to injuries and one death.

What's going on?

In UP, the BJP has turned its sights squarely on the ruling Samajwadi Party. The SP has always had a bit of a lenient approach to law and order, so the BJP is claiming that attacks are the ruling party’s way of getting back at them for their electoral successes. The SP, expectedly, has dismissed this as “baseless allegations”.

Uttar Pradesh Police, meanwhile, have pointed to various specific causes for each of the incidents, rather than attributing them to some sort of political vendetta.

“It is difficult to say, but one thing is certain, during and after this election there was a lot of bitterness from the SP towards the BJP because of their success in the elections,” said Ajai Raj Sharma, a former police commissioner of Delhi who has also served as an additional director general of police in UP.

“The SP is very upset about the fact that the BJP has come to power, and they want to ensure that the same thing won’t be repeated in the coming elections," Sharma said. "They have no hesitation attacking them, since they have their own government, because they think they will be able to manipulate the police and rowdies are always present to loot or fight anyone.”

However, Sharma warned that this strategy could backfire if UP's citizens ask for the SP to be restrained. “If the people demand their dismissal, and the governor also sends a report, life would become very very difficult for them, and who knows, President’s Rule might have to be invoked,” he said.

Here’s a rundown of the attacks that have taken place in the last few days.

June 15: Devendra Sharma, attacked in Mathura
At 2 am, unidentified youngsters in Mathura district’s Govind Nagar area entered the home of Devendra Sharma, the BJP’s general secretary for the Braj region. The goons opened fire on Sharma’s 63-year-old mother Susheela, who was sleeping on the porch. Although a bullet did hit her left hand, she is now in a stable condition. Devendra denied any involvement of servants in the case.

June 14: Rakesh Kumar Rastogi, body found in Bareilly
A long-time associate of the party from Uttarakhand, Rakesh Kumar Rastogi’s body was found inside a car in the Baheri area of Bareilly. He had once served as the BJP's vice-president in the Kicha block in Udham Singh Nagar in Uttarakhand. While some believe his body may simply have been dumped in UP, others have maintained that “prima facie” the killing couldn’t have been a pure political rivalry because Rastogi was not very active in the party any longer.

June 14: Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti, attacked in Fatehpur
The BJP MP from Fatehpur and her supporters were attacked by several people at a function in the Civil Lines area. The police originally accused Bhanu Singh Patel, who had previously been a worker for the BJP’s youth wing, of being behind the attack. But Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti said that Patel is a member of the SP and told the Indian Express that “they attacked because they wanted to eliminate me”.

June 11: Punit Singhal, shot and injured in Bulandshahr
Police say BJP party worker Punit Singhal, who had a stationery shop in the local market, was shot at when he tried to intervene in a dispute between tenants and owners of a neighbouring store. He was taken to the hospital soon after and declared out of danger.

June 10: Veer Singh, shot and killed in Muzaffarnagar
Unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle pulled up behind Om Veer Singh while he was riding his own motorbike in his village, Mirapur, and shot him five times. Singh, a former army officer and the Panchayati Raj co-convenor for the BJP in Muzaffarnagar, tried to defend himself with a licensed revolver but was gunned down and left for dead.

The local Station House Officer claimed the shooting was the result of a financial dispute, since Singh allegedly owed money to a number of people in the area. Police have arrested one of the two assailants as well as four doctors of a local hospital who allegedly gave the man shelter.

June 7: Vijay Pandit, shot and killed in Dadri
The 37-year-old leader who was in charge of the BJP's campaign in the Gautam Budh Nagar area was standing outside his house on June 7, when three people on two motorcycles pulled up and fired five shots at him. Soon after being taken to the nearby hospital, Vijay Pandit was declared dead.

His supporters went on a rampage afterwards, torching cars and buses. They claimed that he was killed because of a campaign against extortionist traders in the Dadri area. Pandit was also a well-known Hindutva face, regularly taking out protests about alleged atrocities committed against Hindus.

However, the police have arrested five people and have traced the attack back to a 2012 murder in which Pandit was said to have been encouraging witnesses to go to court rather than allowing the accused families’ to push for a settlement. For now, the police claim there is no evidence to prove that the incident was politically motivated.
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