The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cold trail greets cops

Jamshedpur, March 7: Almost 62 hours after Jamshedpur MP Sunil Mahto was assassinated, state police arrived at Baguria today with sniffer dogs to track down the culprits.

Sniffer dogs were pressed into service and a large number of villagers and organisers of the football match were interrogated. But the police, said East Singhbhum SP Pankaj Darad, drew a blank.

The delayed action once again drew flak from people and politicians alike, though chief minister Madhu Koda has tried to explain it away by pointing out that the bandh on Monday, VIP visits and the cremation of the MP on Tuesday had kept the police busy.

The SP said the investigation has been handed over to the CID.

A CID team, he said, would be camping at Ghatshila and look into the different aspects of the assassination while the district police would be left free to concentrate on anti-insurgency operation in the Naxal areas.

The police today confiscated photographs published by a section of the print media, which were claimed to have been taken minutes before Mahto was shot dead.

The picture shows the slain MP sitting in the middle, with the district JMM president sitting next to him. But while nothing happened to the two prominent guests flanking the MP, the JMM block president, Prabhakar Mahto, sitting next to the district president, was shot dead by the assailants.

Indiscriminate firing would have hit all the five people sitting in the first row, said CID officers, and not pick up selectively just two.

While the CID plans to interrogate the photographer, it has not yet got hold of the videographer. “We have definite information that a Ghatshila-based videographer had been engaged to record the proceedings,” said the CID official. The video footage, he hoped, would provide clues to the people milling around the small shamiana erected for the dignitaries.

The CID team led by additional director-general R.C. Kaithal noted that the tournament had also included women’s football, which drew a large number of women also. What’s more, it facilitated some of the women, among the assailants, to approach Mahto on the pretext of garlanding him.

While generally the police and politicians are quick to pin the blame for any kind of violence on Maoists, in this case both groups appear reluctant to swallow it. Both the wife and mother of the slain MP has hinted at a “political conspiracy” to do away with Mahto. Several cabinet ministers and the chief minister have declared that the possibility of a “political murder” cannot be ruled out.

Even a section of the JMM today scoffed at the Maoist claim, maintaining that Mahto was never in the Naxalite hit-list. That is why, they explained, he moved freely in the area even at night; that is also why he did not think it necessary to inform the police before venturing into the Galudih area. They, however, ruled out a tribal-Kurmi rift in the party triggering the assassination. Individual leaders, they felt, would have used a section of the Maoists to eliminate Mahto, whose political clout and popularity was becoming uncomfortable for them.

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