Hazaribagh/Ranchi, March 8: Firebrand Ajsu leader Tileshwar Sahu (47) was shot dead from point blank range in front of his bodyguards moments after he danced to Nagpuri songs at a women’s day function at Barhi today, the needle of suspicion pointing to PLFI, whom he had taken on in his home district.
His supporters — at least 15,000 were present at the function at Barhi, around 41km from Hazaribagh district headquarters — momentarily stunned by the sudden turn of events, chased one of the shooters, part of a gang of three.
They managed to catch one of them and beat him up mercilessly in front of a few policemen, who made no attempt to intervene. He was ultimately handed over to the police. But, the other two fled on a bike.
Sahu, who used to move around with as many as four bodyguards in a bullet-proof vehicle, had often complained of a threat to his life, said Sudesh Mahto, chief of Ajsu that has called a Jharkhand bandh tomorrow in protest against the killing.
“For a long time, he had been telling us that his life was in danger. Today, it came true,” said Mahto, calling for a high-level inquiry into his killing. “It is not only a personal loss, it is also a loss for Jharkhand. We lost a fearless leader,” he said about the party’s general secretary.
As soon as news of Sahu’s death reached Ranchi, the state police top brass went into a huddle to discuss the implications of the murder a month before the general elections which could see him as a Ajsu candidate.
“We suspect the PLFI. One of the assailants has been arrested and his interrogation is on,” DGP Rajeev Kumar told The Telegraph, while police sources confirmed Sahu was on rebels’ hit-list ever since he launched a campaign against them in his home district of Gumla.
According to Mohammad Afak Ahmad, who was standing behind Sahu, it all happened too quickly. After addressing the gathering around 2pm, Sahu danced to some Nagpuri songs before stepping down from the dais. He had barely walked five feet, when a man in his 20s came in front of him.
The Ajsu leader held out his arm to shake his hand, not unused to such familiarity because of his popularity. But the man brought out a revolver and, holding it with both hands, shot him in the chest.
Sahu fell down after which a second man opened fire. But the bullet missed him and hit a wall. In the melee, the trio tried to flee, but Ajsu supporters chased them and caught one of them, later identified as Suraj Prasad (27) of Gumla.
The police have seized the revolver.
Other supporters led by Guru Dev Kumar Gupta picked up Sahu and put him in an SUV and drove to Barhi sub-divisional hospital. But since there was no doctor there, they decided turn to Hazaribagh town.
Since they were caught in traffic, they could reach the sadar hospital only around 3.45pm. But doctors declared him brought dead.
While many Ajsu supporters, who had gathered in front of the hospital, broke down, others vented their ire by smashing bottles and throwing chairs near the OT.
In the evening, they blocked Barhi Chowk and state highway 8 that connects Gumla with Lohardaga, demanding that Sahu’s killers be brought to book immediately.
“Bhaiya bahut milansar theÖ aur sabko lekar chalne wale the. Hum iska badla lekar rahenge (Bhaiya was a warm person who took everyone along. We will take revenge),” said a supporter.
Those who knew him said Sahu, who is survived by wife Sabi Devi, two sons and a daughter, had come to terms with living in the shadow of death. His father, Gajendra Sahu, was murdered in 2010 and last year, he escaped an attack on his own life while performing a puja for his late father.
Sahu, who was briefly chairman of State Pollution Control Board, emerged as a strong leader of the Sahus, a sub-sect of the traders’ community of Viashyas. He was also instrumental in mobilising the Teli community as votebank through his outfit, Chhotanagpur Teli Uththan Samaj.
This time, he was widely expected to be fielded by the Ajsu from the Chatra Lok Sabha seat.
Ajsu has postponed tomorrow’s parliamentary committee meeting in Ranchi in view of Sahu’s funeral, which would be held in Gumla.