The opposition in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday held demonstrations to protest a government engineer's murder, allegedly by a ruling Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) legislator, but Chief Minister Mayawati claimed the crime was a result of "underhand money".
The opposition parties on Thursday asserted Public Works Department (PWD) engineer MK Gupta was killed in Auraiya district, 250 km from Lucknow, early on Wednesday by the BSP legislator and his henchmen after he refused to contribute Rs 5 million (Rs.50 lakh) for the chief minister's birthday bash. But at a press conference Mayawati said: "Preliminary investigations have revealed that the murder was the result of some kind of professional tussle and underhand money."
She also trained her guns on the opposition for an "orchestrated campaign to malign the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) government".
"The allegation that my party MLA was indulging in extortion to collect money for my birthday celebrations is absolutely false and baseless," an angry Mayawati told mediapersons in Lucknow.
Though she said on Wednesday that her government would entrust the probe to whichever agency the victim's family preferred, Mayawati on Thursday refused to accede to the demand for handing over the case to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
"I do not believe in shielding anyone indulging in any unlawful activity, no matter however high and mighty he might be. We have done so in the past and even in this case, we have booked BSP MLA Shekhar Tiwari under stringent laws and have put him behind bars. I can assure you he will not be spared under any circumstances," she said.
She admitted her birthday on Jan 15 was traditionally observed as "arthik sahayog diwas" (financial cooperation day). "We make no bones about observing my birthday as a day for seeking donations from our party supporters who shell out their savings with which we sustain our party," she said.
"Unlike other parties, including the Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), our party is not supported by big industrial and business houses. Therefore, we have to depend on small contributions made by our supporters," she said.
Marawati, however, added: "This time I have issued directions for such funds to come only from party functionaries and not MPs and MLAs of the party."
Mayawati declared that her next birthday would be celebrated as 'dhikkar diwas' (condemnation day) without the usual bash.
"BSP workers will stage rallies at all district headquarters across the state to condemn all political parties which have been making false and wild allegations about extortion of money for my birthday. They will expose misdeeds of the Congress-led UPA, BJP-led NDA and their allies, including the Samajwadi Party."
The chief minister accused her rivals of indulging in dirty politics.
Legislator Tiwari and his musclemen allegedly barged into engineer Gupta's home around 2 am on Wednesday, locked up his wife in the bathroom and thrashed him for hours after stripping him.
Around 5 am, Tiwari carried a severely injured Gupta to the nearest police station and told the police to register a case against the engineer for "indulging in hooliganism".
The police, however, took Gupta to hospital around 7 am where he was declared dead.
According to the autopsy report, Gupta's body bore 32 injury marks and one of his arms was fractured. He had been given electric shocks and his hair had been pulled out in chunks, the report added.
The victim's cousin Sharad Gupta said the engineer was under pressure to shell out a hefty amount for Mayawati's birthday celebrations.
The police managed to nab Tiwari from Kanpur (Rural) district on Wednesday evening. But two of his cohorts, also named for the murder, are yet to be traced and arrested.
A court in Auraiya on Thursday remanded Tiwari to judicial custody till Jan 7.
The opposition has accused the Mayawati government of sheltering criminals and promoting organised crime.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of opposition activists stopped trains in Allahabad, Etawah, Kanpur and other districts, while roads were blocked in Lucknow and other places. Over 1,000 protesters were detained by the police across the state.
Samajwadi Party activists torched the offices of the sub-collector and the superintendent of police in Auraiya.
"The mob also torched a police outpost in Nijhai locality, over half a dozen two-wheelers parked outside the outpost and a State Roadways bus," a policeman said. An office of the local circle officer was also ransacked.
Shivpal Yadav, acting president of the state's main opposition Samajwadi Party, and party president Mulayam Singh Yadav's son and MP Akhilesh Yadav were taken into custody from outside the state governor's residence in Lucknow along with more than 300 party workers.
Mulayam Singh Yadav once again demanded the chief minister's resignation.
"In over 70 per cent of murders committed in the state, BSP legislators and party members are found involved," the former chief minister told mediapersons.
State Congress president Rita Bahuguna Joshi said: "We are all united against the killing of a class-I officer. The incident has put a blot on democracy and projects how insecure government officials are in the Mayawati regime."
The BJP also called for closure of schools and government offices in Auraiya.