A group of followers of self-styled godman Asaram allegedly raised Rs 25 lakh and hired an amateur shooter to eliminate witnesses in separate rape cases against the incarcerated sect leader and his son, police said on Tuesday.
The suspected shooter who had attended a few discourses by Asaram, managed to kill three witnesses but missed four others. The shooter, who has no arms training, had attended a few discourses by Asaram before joining one of his ashrams.
74-year-old Asaram and his son Narayan Sai are lodged in separate jails in Rajasthan and Gujarat, facing charges of rape and intimidation.
The suspect, identified as Kartik Haldar, was arrested by the Gujarat anti-terrorism squad (ATS) from Raipur in Chhattisgarh and brought to Ahmedabad on Monday.
The cases against Asaram and Narayan Sai are lodged in Surat and Ahmedabad in Gujarat besides Jodhpur in Rajasthan.
The shooter allegedly named several followers – known as sadhaks – who met in Delhi in 2014 and decided to raise fund to kill the witnesses, ATS sources said.
The sources said the shooter, a West Bengal resident, named Pravin Vakil, KD Patel, Sanjay Jodhpur and Mohan Kishor among the sadhaks who raised the amount. They are likely to be arrested after their identities are ascertained.
It was not immediately known if the act had Asaram or Narayan Sai’s approval.
Amrut Prajapati, a former aide of Asaram and a key witness, was shot dead in his Rajkot clinic in June 2014. Kripal Singh, another witness, also succumbed to bullet injuries in June 2015 following an attack in Shahjahanpur, UP. Akhil Gupta, who worked with Asaram as a cook and testified against him, was shot dead in January 2015 near his house in Muzaffarnagar in UP. The last case is investigated by the CBI.
Preliminary investigations revealed Haldar had procured 10 arms, including country made pistols and pistols.
Haldar had first attended Asaram’s satsang in 2000 in Delhi and joined his Motera ashram in Ahmedabad in 2001.
Asaram’s followers say the sexual assault charge leveled by a minor girl on their leader was an attempt to malign his image and politically motivated.