The Uttar Pradesh Police on Saturday said that a temple priest in Gonda who was shot at last week had orchestrated the attack on himself to frame a political rival in a land dispute matter, PTI reported. Seven people, including the head priest of the temple and a village head, have been arrested for planning the subterfuge, and the priest too will reportedly be arrested once he is released from the hospital.

The priest, identified as Samrat Das, claimed to have been attacked in his sleep on October 10 in the Ram Janki Temple, a 30-acre area situated in the Tirre Manorama village of the district. He was referred to the trauma centre at the King George’s Medical University in Lucknow, where he is currently undergoing treatment.

A case of murder attempt was filed by the head priest of the temple, Sitaramdas, against a former village head Amar Singh and three of his associates – two of whom were arrested the next day, according to NDTV. Singh was reportedly absconding.

In a joint press conference on Saturday, District Magistrate Nitin Bansal and Superintendent of Police Shailesh Kumar Pandey said that Singh and Sitaramdas had been involved in a land dispute related to the temple. Besides this, the temple land was also a bone of contention between Amar Singh and one Vinay Singh, the present gram pradhan of the village.

Pandey said that Vinay Singh and Sitaramdas had together conspired to frame Amar Singh for the fake attack on Das. They planned to shoot the priest in a way so that he would be injured without any threat to his life, the superintendent of police said.

On the day of the attack, all the accused had gathered in the temple premises and with the priest’s consent, one of them fired at him while Sitaramdas pretended to be asleep in his room, Pandey said. The home guards who rushed to the temple on hearing the sound of gunshots even saw three people escaping, the police officer added.

The police said that two people, who were earlier arrested on the basis of Sitaramdas’ first information report, will be released soon.

Five teams were constituted for solving the case and based on electronic evidence, statements of witnesses and other inputs, seven accused were arrested on Friday, the police said. Efforts were on to catch one other person who is still on the run. Three country-made revolvers, seven live cartridges, and an empty one, along with a mobile phone were recovered from them, the police added.

The incident had sparked a political row. Saints from Ayodhya had also camped in the district and demanded prompt action against those responsible.