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Generator muffled petrol gunshots
Manjunathan

Lakhimpur-Kheri (Uttar Pradesh), Nov. 23: At one corner of the petrol station is a huge cloth hoarding bearing the name of BJP leader Meenakshi Agarwal.

A big oil tanker is parked nearby. A little way off stands an abandoned Sumo. The office room is locked and forlorn. The pumps from which the petrol flows have run dry and deathly quiet.

Not a soul is to be seen anywhere near Mittal Service Centre where IOC executive B.S. Manjunathan was bumped off last Saturday. Even the employees have stopped coming for fear police may haul them up for questioning.

Four days after the murder, five persons have been arrested, including main accused Manu, the son of pump owner Sulachan Mittal. But the police are yet to get a clue into what the IOC executive had put his finger on that he had to pay with his life.

A contract killer and a generator that went phut-phut-phut-phut to smother the sound of the gunshots have, however, come into the picture.

“Although there was no power cut on Saturday evening, the lights were turned out and the generator switched on. With the noise level high, shots were fired at Manjunathan,” the police quoted Manu as telling the investigators.

Lakhimpur-Kheri SP Zakie Ahmed said the police had got wind that “the accused persons had hired a killer who actually fired the shots and he was paid just Rs 5,000”.

Two of Manu’s associates, Sanjay Awasthi and Harish Mishra, were arrested late last night along with him. A rifle was seized from them.

Satish Sharma, a shopkeeper, said Manjunathan’s fatal “mistake” may have been that he refused to be “bought” by the petrol mafia. “Here petrol pump owners used to mix 60 per cent kerosene and 40 per cent petrol. Manjunathan’s arrival changed all that,” he said.

Two of Mittal’s petrol pumps were sealed by Manjunathan in September. A month later, they were allowed to re-open on the promise that there would be no adulteration.

When Manjunathan landed for a surprise check last Saturday, he noticed a huge drum of kerosene in the petrol pump office. “When around 6 pm, he walked into the pump, he was nicely treated, even offered tea. Then the generator engines began to whirr and gunshots rang out,” said T.N. Tripathi, a police officer.

The police said the Mittals were related to local BJP leader Meenakshi Agarwal. “But the leader might not have any idea of the murder plot,” an officer said.

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