Despite the arrest of two suspects so far, the police investigation into the mob assault on a professor at the Mahatma Gandhi Central University in Motihari, Bihar, seems to have hit a wall. While the professor, Sanjay Kumar, and teacher and student associations from across India, and even one of the suspects have suggested that Kumar was targeted primarily for actively participating in an ongoing protest seeking the removal of the university’s vice chancellor, Arvind Kumar Agrawal, the police deny any such link.

The police have booked 12 people for the assault, including Sanjay Singh, Motihari bureau chief of the Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar. Singh, whom the police have so far only questioned over the phone, claimed he is being framed by Sharma because he had refused to help the protesters remove the vice chancellor.

The attack on the professor further increased the tension on the campus, leading to the university being closed for an indefinite period on August 19.

Sanjay Kumar, who teaches sociology and social anthropology at the university, shared Facebook posts on August 16 and 17 stating that the former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was not a Nehruvian socialist as he was being portrayed after his death earlier that day but a staunch loyalist of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh who always pushed its Hindutva agenda.

On August 17, a mob arrived at the professor’s home, dragged him out and thrashed him. He is currently recovering in a hospital in Patna. In his complaint, Sanjay Kumar identified 12 of the assailants. The police confirmed the identities of seven of them from a video of the attack that appeared on social media that day. On August 18, another video clip surfaced showing unidentified persons forcing Sanjay Kumar to say he respected Vajpayee and shall never post or comment on Facebook criticising any leader who has received the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest award. He was also forced to apologise to “all Indians”.

Of the accused, Jitendra Giri and Diwakar Singh have surrendered. The police say they identified seven of the 12 accused with the help of a video clip circulating on social media. The police, however, are tight-lipped about their affiliations with student, political or religious groups. “Currently, we are prioritising tracing down the rest of the seven identified suspects,” said Motihari Town police station head Anand Kumar. “But the attack cannot be linked with the protest [to remove the vice chancellor] at this juncture because if an attack like this had to happen for the protest, it could have happened earlier.”

Asked what the police were doing about the suspects named by the professor but not identified from the videos yet, Anand Kumar said on Thursday, “We cannot give you more details now. We are waiting for the five [identified] suspects to surrender. They have told our informers that they will come to the police station by this evening.”

As legal experts have pointed out, participants in a conspiracy do not have to be physically present at the scene of a crime to have played a role in it.

Anand Kumar would not even consider the possibility that his attackers had used Sanjay’s Kumar Facebook posts as a pretext to target him for agitating against the vice chancellor. The officer’s boss, the East Champaran superintendent of police, did not respond to phone calls.


‘The vice chancellor issue’

Anand Kumar said the police questioned the accused journalist over the phone on Sunday and he said he did not know any of the other suspects. “The two arrested persons have also told us they do not know him [Sanjay Singh] personally,” the police officer added.

Sanjay Singh told he did not know Sanjay Kumar and had never commented on his Facebook posts, contradicting the professor’s allegation that the journalist had called him a terrorist in response to a post on Vajpayee. Since the post is now deleted, these claims cannot be independently verified.

The journalist alleged the protesters at the university, including Sanjay Kumar, are trying to frame him because he refused to help them with “the vice chancellor issue”. “They directly asked me if I could help them remove the vice chancellor, to which I said no,” he said. “They threatened me of dire consequences but I did not take them seriously.”

The police have also not yet questioned Rajan Srivastava, a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s IT cell in Motihari district. According to a report in The Indian Express, Srivastava had responded to one of Sanjay Kumar’s Facebook posts, writing in Hindi, “Mr have so far seen only the love of Champaran residents, now get ready to see their muscle power.”

Asked about it, Motihari police chief Upendra Sharma told the newspaper that since the Supreme Court repealed Section 66A of IT Act, which dealt with offensive online messages, “we are not looking too much into social media posts”. “So many important people are being trolled,” Sharma added. “But we are surely investigating the deeper conspiracy behind the assault on Sanjay Kumar.”

Sanjay Kumar recounts the attack on him.

Journalist under scanner

Interestingly, the August 18 edition of Dainik Bhaskar reported the assault on Sanjay Kumar and mentioned that 12 people had been booked. But it disclosed the names of only three suspects, excluding Singh. The report also did not mention Vajpayee or the Facebook Posts that had purportedly led to the attack.

Dainik Bhaskar's report on the assault on Sanjay Kumar.

Sanjay Singh leads a team of 12 reporters for Dainik Bhaskar in Motihari. He reports to Kumar Bhawanand, the paper’s resident editor in Muzaffarpur, Bihar. Bhawanand claimed they conducted an “internal inquiry” which found their journalist had “no role in the incident”. “There are times when reporters are targeted by people for old grudges,” he added. “This seems like one such case. Only the police enquiry can shed more light on this. Till then, we stand by our reporter.”

Bhawanand said he had no knowledge of his reporter commenting on Sanjay Kumar’s Facebook posts but as far as his presence at the scene of the assault is concerned, “he was in Motihari office at that time”.

The suspects have been booked for criminal intimidation, causing hurt, wrongful restraint, rioting and hatching a criminal conspiracy. Technically, the suspect is not required to be present at the scene of the crime to attract these charges.

Asked why the daily’s report on the assault did not name its reporter as one of the suspects, Bhawanand said, “It is possible that the names of only three accused were confirmed by the police by then. Otherwise, we had no reason to deliberately not disclose the name of our reporter if he had been listed as an accused in a case.”