Two men in saffron kurta and jeans assassinated the leader of a fringe pro-Hindu political party in his Lucknow office on Friday afternoon, shooting him and then stabbing him 15 times after a chat over tea.
The murder of Hindu Samaj Party president Kamlesh Tiwari, 45, puts under further strain the “perfect law and order” portrayed by chief minister Yogi Adityanath, whose rule has witnessed a spate in killings of Sangh parivar functionaries.
Tiwari’s party and his wife Kiran have alleged the killers were “Muslim extremists” but state police chief O.P. Singh said: “Our primary investigation suggests the (killers) were very well known to Tiwari.”
Officers said Kiran had blamed the murder on a fatwa issued by two western Uttar Pradesh clerics in 2016 announcing a reward of Rs 1.5 crore for anyone who would behead Tiwari.
Local newspapers had carried the news of the fatwa, issued after Tiwari had made provocative remarks about a religious figure, for which he was arrested under the National Security Act.
Singh, the police chief, cited security-camera footage to say the two visitors had “sat with Tiwari for about 36 minutes and discussed something with him over cups of tea”.
“One of them then pulled out a revolver and shot him. They then stabbed him repeatedly and ran away.”
Around the time Tiwari was murdered, Adityanath was promising people at a by-election rally in Rampur that he would promote the area’s traditional knife industry.
Targeting his rivals, particularly local Samajwadi Party MP Azam Khan, the chief minister said: “If you give a sword to the wrong person, he will snatch your rights.”
Tiwari, a former Hindu Mahasabha leader, had in January 2017 floated the Hindu Samaj Party, which is yet to contest any election. He had turned the first floor of his Khurshidbagh home into his office — which boasts a picture of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi — while his family lived on the ground floor.
The police constable who provided him security was allegedly taking a nap on the ground floor when Tiwari was killed.
The Adityanath government’s relations with Tiwari were chequered. The state administration had last year revoked the NSA against him, but arrested him on December 6 after he announced “a march to Ayodhya to start building a Ram temple”.
On August 18 this year, Tiwari had in a Facebook video accused the Adityanath government of “harassing” him by “banning” him from organising any protests for a year.
Shishir Chaturvedi, spokesperson for Tiwari’s party, accused “Muslim extremists” of the killing but also took pot shots against the state government.
“He was receiving threat calls every day and demanding more security, but the state government gave him just one constable,” he said.
Angry Tiwari supporters damaged two state transport buses and forced shopkeepers in the city’s Naka area to down shutters.
“Any murder must be condemned but imagine what kind of terror the Hindutva groups would have unleashed had a similar incident taken place in a non-BJP state,” a Samajwadi politician said, requesting anonymity lest he be “falsely branded a supporter of the crime”.
“But they are silent when their leader is killed in Lucknow. The fact is, Adityanath is incompetent and unfit to run a state. Prime Minister Narendra Modi should seriously think about replacing him with an efficient chief minister.”
Never before have so many ruling party members been killed under the watch of any Uttar Pradesh chief minister.
Chaudhary Yashpal Singh of Miragpur in Saharanpur and Sidharth Rohtagi of Bareilly, both BJP workers, were killed on October 10. Rakesh Sharma, party general secretary in Hapur, was murdered on September 9.
Party workers Kapoor Singh alias Kallu and Bachcha Singh Gaur were shot dead in Ghatampur, Kanpur, on September 5. Sompal Saini, a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader from Habibpur, Muzaffarnagar, was gunned down on August 29.
Surendra Singh, 50, a BJP leader from Amethi, was shot dead in front of his home in village Baraulia on May 26.
Rahul Verma, 30, a Bajrang Dal activist from Mahoba, was found dead on a roadside under mysterious circumstances on October 2 last year.