| Cadets celebrate by tossing their caps in the air after a passing-out parade at the Indian Military Academy in Dehradun. A file picture
A murderer’s first problem is how to get rid of the body.
On a cold December night, at one of India’s premier military schools, the soldier had solved a different problem: how to find a body.
He had just killed the owner of one.
The other body ' his own, the one that needed to disappear ' would pose no problem. He would vanish for ever, with his girl.
They would find the other body, the one he would leave behind, in the morning. Burnt beyond recognition, wearing the jawan’s clothes, badge and boots, lying in his barracks.
That will be enough to fool them. They will call his father and tell him his son is dead. Will they call it suicide or an accident' Will they notice Kalua dhobi, the campus idiot, had disappeared too'
The ISI, apparently, thinks not.
Nineteen months after being declared dead, Rifleman Suraj Singh Negi was arrested on July 7 from Bhanamal Trust dharamsala in Bathinda, Punjab. He had been asking for directions close to defence installations in the cantonment town and enquiring about the families of Kargil martyrs, police said.
The 32-year-old’s questions had raised suspicions and he had had a fight with a local.
Police say they found on him a sketch of an area of the town that is home to Asia’s largest cantonment and feeds the strategic western and northern commands.
Negi told his interrogators he is a deserter from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. He denied killing Kalua.
The police believe Negi is an ISI agent and had faked his death by killing the washerman, dressing him in his own clothes, putting the body inside his barracks and setting fire to it.
“This is a story of intrigue. You have a charred body, a sexually virile woman and a young man who is married and has three children,” Uttaranchal police’s investigating officer S.S. Bhandari said.
Who hatched the intricate plot'
On December 10, 2003 ' the night of Negi’s “death” ' a 55-year-old woman, too, had vanished from her rented flat at Premnagar, 15 km away. The former cabaret dancer’s disappearance went unnoticed, as had the mentally unhinged Kalua’s.
Evelyn Yadav alias Renu, “who looked about 35 to 40”, was Negi’s mistress, Bhandari said.
“They had met after he joined the army eight years ago. She may have been the one working for the ISI. She probably helped him write the script.”
“The ISI is constantly scouting for moles inside the IMA and Suraj, who knew the academy well, might have played into their hands owing to his involvement with Renu,” another officer said.
“This is not one man’s job. It needs a team to execute such a plan.”
The IMA “identified” the charred body as Negi’s from the badge and partly burnt belt and clothes. The police went along with that.
The father, Shankar Singh Negi, a former subedar with the army, again “identified” the body ' from one of the boots and a couple of intact toes.
The post-mortem report said the victim died of smoke inhalation and burns.
To the academy and the police, it was an open and shut case. The organs weren’t preserved; no DNA test was done.
The academy had better things to do. Its two-yearly passing-out parade was due and everyone needed to help with the arrangements.
“It (a proper investigation into the fire and the death) could have diverted attention from the parade. We are trying to find out if any officer downplayed the matter for that reason,” an officer said.
The academy first declared it was a suicide only to change the verdict to “accident” after Shankar Singh objected, saying his son was not the sort to kill himself.
The father, apparently, also saw something the academy missed: the clothes and belt were not on the body but placed next to it.
Who would remove clothes and a belt from a burnt body'
For about a year after his “death”, Negi and Renu stayed at Poanta Sahib in Himachal Pradesh, where Renu’s sister Shobha lived.
“They posed as husband and wife,” an officer said. “Negi changed his name to Sunil Rawat and Renu to Anu. Their neighbours in Adarsh Nagar considered them a loving couple.”
Then it was one place after another. From Poanta Sahib to Jagadhari in Haryana in January. Then to Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh a couple of months ago. Renu didn’t accompany Negi to Bathinda, where he was arrested the day after his arrival.
“Renu is the key to the mystery. This story can be completed only after her arrest,” the officer said.
Why did Negi go to such length to fake his death' Why did he need to flee the academy'
How could he hoodwink military intelligence in so vital an installation' Was he involved in the Lashkar-e-Toiba’s abortive plan of a suicide attack on the academy, as revealed by the arrest of two terrorists in Delhi last March'
Negi is in Bathinda jail. Uttaranchal police will soon bring him to Dehradun on remand for questioning. The army wants the case transferred to it, for Negi is a deserter. “We cannot say anything now. The incident took place one-and-a-half years ago,” spokesman Lt Col A.K. Chauhan said. “We will launch a fresh probe and register an FIR.”