Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar recommended on Monday a CBI probe into a senior journalist’s murder that has mounted pressure on his coalition government amidst allegations of a jailed politician’s involvement.
The government’s announcement came two days after 42-year-old Rajdeo Ranjan, the head of Hindi daily Hindustan in Siwan, was shot dead by unidentified men in the heart of the town, 145 km north-west of Patna.
Police, who claim to be on the verge of cracking the case, said the “instructions” to kill Ranjan came from Siwan jail where former MP and RJD strongman Mohammad Shahabuddin is serving a life sentence for murder.
Upendra Singh, a close associate of Shahabuddin, who was questioned by police is understood to have revealed that the kill order was issued a fortnight ago.
Police sources said a criminal released from the jail recently approached Singh to arrange arms for killing Ranjan, who had written extensively against the RJD leader, said to wield considerable clout despite being behind bars for six years.
Singh is among four people arrested after the incident but only for drinking alcohol, a crime under the new prohibition law. Sources said the four were allegedly “celebrating” the murder of Ranjan, though police are yet to find any evidence to link him to the incident.
Nitish Kumar is facing flak from the opposition for engaging his entire administration in enforcing prohibition, his pet project, which allegedly left holes in policing.
“If there is an attack on a journalist, it’s an attack on me and that’s how I am looking
at the case,” Kumar told reporters, as he sought to deflect opposition allegations of his losing control over the law and order scenario.
The incident came a few days after the son of a ruling JD-U legislator was arrested for killing a youth in a case of road rage in Gaya. The opposition BJP said the spate of killings confirmed the “return of maha jungle raj” in the state.
The slain journalist’s wife Asha welcomed the announcement, saying she had “full faith in a CBI inquiry but can’t believe in Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar or Bihar police”.
She was also very critical of the police. “Whatever arrests they (the police) claim to have made are under excise act. Even after 72 hours, they have nothing to show.”
Investigators said on Monday a sharp-shooter linked to Shahabuddin and released from Siwan jail a fortnight ago has emerged as the main suspect but he was yet to be arrested.
Altogether 15 people, including the four arrested, have been questioned over the murder till now.
The sharpshooter went underground with his entire family within two hours of the killing, police added.
“They (the 15 people) are under suspicion since they had celebrated the killing. All of them have a criminal past and were associated with local politics,” said Bihar director general of police PK Thakur.
Police said the killing was the result of a leaked photograph of Bihar minister Abdul Ghafoor feasting with Shahabuddin in jail. It is believed that the slain journalist passed on the pictures to media houses.