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BJP leader shot dead by bikers in riot belt

- Party sees ‘pattern’ in back-to-back murders of office-bearers in western UP, alleges jungle raj

Lucknow, June 10: A BJP leader was murdered in Muzaffarnagar today, the second from the party to be shot dead by motorbike riders in western Uttar Pradesh in three days, prompting allegations of a “pattern” and a “jungle raj”.

Former soldier Om Veer, aged about 40, was president of the party unit at Mirapur, a small town about 5km south of Muzaffarnagar and some 490km from Lucknow.

A local police officer said Mirapur was “one of the epicentres” of the communal violence that rocked Muzaffarnagar district last September. Police sources confirmed that Om Veer had no criminal record and was not an accused in the riots.

Like those who gunned down Delhi BJP vice-president Vijay Pandit, 46, in Greater Noida’s Dadri area on Saturday — which provoked nightlong street violence and a continuing shutdown — Om Veer’s killers too had their faces hidden by helmets, officers said.

“The victim was a retired soldier (a JCO). He was walking to his farm at Runapur area around 7am when two men on a motorcycle shot him from behind,” Muzaffarnagar senior superintendent of police H.N. Singh said, quoting eyewitnesses.

“After being hit by the first bullet, Om Veer returned fire from his own licensed revolver. But as he slumped to the ground bleeding, the assailants overpowered him, snatched his revolver and shot him twice with it. They escaped with the victim’s revolver.”

Singh said Om Veer had retired from the army in 2007 and had since then been lending money to farmers at an interest. He said he didn’t know whether the victim had BJP links.

However, senior BJP leader Nalin Kohli told reporters in New Delhi that Om Veer was president of the party’s Mirapur city unit and a member of the BJP’s district panchayat committee.

“The second daylight murder of a party leader in Uttar Pradesh has reconfirmed our fears that the state has slipped into jungle raj,” he alleged.

Party spokesperson Vijay Bahadur Pathak told reporters in Lucknow: “We are unnerved by the two murders. There may be a pattern in these two murders.”

On Saturday night, Pandit had been attacked by four men who came on two motorcycles. The murder prompted incensed BJP supporters to run wild, burning passing vehicles, stoning buses, ransacking shops and trying unsuccessfully to set a police outpost on fire.

The police claim to have picked up four people for questioning in connection with the Dadri killing but no breakthrough has happened yet. Shops and markets in Dadri remained shut for the third consecutive day today.

Today’s murder came at a time embattled chief minister Akhilesh Yadav was meeting senior police and civil administration officials to discuss the rising crime in the state that has pushed his government on the back foot.

Poor law and order, including last year’s Muzaffarnagar riots, is believed to have been a key reason behind the ruling Samajwadi Party’s Lok Sabha tally falling from 23 seats to five in this summer’s election.

The crimes have continued, with a series of rapes and killings — particularly the gang rape and murder of two teenaged Dalit cousins in Badaun — bringing the state into international spotlight.

The BJP, buoyed by its sterling electoral showing — it won 71 of the state’s 80 parliamentary seats while an ally bagged two — has stepped up heat on the Akhilesh government.

Last week, it organised a siege of the street leading to the chief minister’s office on the issue of the Badaun atrocity.

Sources said the new principal secretary (home), Deepak Singhal, today asked the Muzaffarnagar administration to get additional forces from adjoining districts and deploy them in sensitive areas.