All three suspected killers of Atiq Ahmed, former Samajwadi Party MP and alleged gangster, and his brother Ashraf threw down their handguns after emptying them on the duo in front of TV cameras in Allahabad City on Saturday night.
One of the suspects shouted “Jai Shri Ram, Jai Shri Ram” and then “Surrender karte hain, surrender karte hain (I surrender, I surrender)”. The other two lifted their arms above their heads, showing no inclination to escape.
The two dozen policemen present — who were escorting the brothers but had watched passively as two men in their custody were murdered in 44 frenzied seconds of shooting outside a hospital — quickly overpowered the trio.
Suspects Luvlesh Tiwari, 23, Sunny Singh, 24, and Arun Maurya, 25, belong to poor families from Banda, Hamirpur and Kasganj districts, respectively, and are small-time history sheeters, police sources said. Officers said there were two other men with them who escaped after the shooting.
Luvlesh’s Facebook page introduces him as Sah Suraksha Pramukh (joint security chief) of the Bajrang Dal in Banda district, but a Bajrang Dal leader said this was untrue.
The police have avoided commenting on the murder motive or possible conspirators. A retired police officer, however, said the suspected killers were small fry and there had to be someone powerful behind them.
The audacity of the public-place killings and the suspects’ tame surrender implied that someone powerful had offered them protection, sources suggested.
A police source who sought anonymity said that Atiq had on Friday told investigators that a big arms dealer active in India and Pakistan had been in touch with him for many years and was also known to some senior politicians.
“He had promised to reveal the names if he was treated well,” the officer said.
Commenting on the double murder, state finance minister Suresh Khanna said: “Some decisions are taken in heaven. Whatever happened was kudrat’s (nature’s) justice, decided in heaven.”
The security details of several ministers, including deputy chief ministers Keshav Prasad Maurya and Brajesh Pathak, have been enhanced although the administration has been tight-lipped about the source of the threat.
Chief minister Yogi Adityanath has ordered a three-member judicial inquiry into Saturday’s killings.
Atiq and Ashraf were on Sunday buried in the Kasari Masari graveyard in Allahabad beside Atiq’s son Asad, who was killed by the police in a purported encounter in Jhansi on Thursday. Atiq’s father-in-law, Mohammad Harun, was present during the burial.
Atiq and Ashraf had for the last five years been in jail as undertrials for the 2005 murder of BSP legislator Raju Pal. They had been taken into police remand last week for questioning in connection with the February 28, 2023, murder of Umesh Pal, a lawyer and a prosecution witness in the Raju Pal murder.
They had also been charged recently with having links with Pakistani spy agency ISI, the militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba, and a Pakistani arms dealer. They had been brought to a hospital for a medical check-up when they were killed.
Asad, accused of murdering Umesh, was killed by the special task force team on Thursday.
All three suspects had spent time in jail in the past and were out on bail, police sources said.
Luvlesh’s father Yagya Tiwari, speaking to reporters at the door of his house in Kyotara, Banda, said: “He was sent to jail a few years ago for slapping a girl and was released recently. He came home six days ago and then left. He never told us anything about himself.”
Arun is from village Baghela in Kasganj district. His parents died 15 years ago. He had begged on the streets for a while before turning to small-time crime. He was accused of killing a railway police constable while looting a wagon and sent to jail custody.
Laxmi Maurya, his aunt, said: “He left home many years ago. We didn’t know what he was doing all these years.”
A relative of Sunny, whose family lives in Kurara area of Hamirpur, said: “He left home 12 years ago and never returned. There are cases against him in Kurara police station.”
It’s not clear whether the three suspects knew each other from before or had ever been in the same jail. But they acted in tandem on Saturday night.
Allahabad police commissioner Ramit Sharma said the suspects had, posing as journalists, got close to Atiq and Ashraf at the gates of Motilal Nehru Divisional Hospital. The trio apparently carried a camera and a mike.
“Man Singh, a constable, too suffered a bullet injury and is out of danger,” Sharma said.
A police source said: “Luvlesh too took a bullet in his left hand as his two friends fired on Atiq and Ashraf from the other side. He has been admitted to hospital.”
He added: “While two of the shooters had country-made pistols, Maurya was firing from a Zigana, a semi-automatic Turkish firearm, illegally produced in Pakistan and often smuggled to India.”
Dhirendra Rai, a retired police inspector who had arrested Atiq in 1996 in a murder case, said: “The three killers are tools and the actual conspirator must be sitting somewhere else.”