Four days after they were kidnapped, police in Bihar are yet to trace Gaya doctor Pankaj Kumar Gupta and his wife Shubhra, or locate the luxury Audi car in which they were travelling.
Official sources told Hindustan Times on Tuesday that special investigation teams sent to Kanpur and Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh and to Ranchi in Jharkhand had not made much headway.
Investigators are now firmly of the opinion that the crime was carried out by the same inter-state gang which kidnapped Sohail Hingora, son of a Surat-based textile magnate, in October 2013.
Sohail was kidnapped from Daman on October 29, 2013 and held captive in Saran in north Bihar until his father Hanif Hingora reportedly paid a ransom of Rs 9 crore.
Dr Gupta, a leading Gaya paediatrician and member of the central Bihar chamber of commerce, and his wife went missing near Barachatti (Gaya) while travelling on the Grand Trunk Road in a Rs 55 lakh Audi car.
This happened last Friday afternoon while they were returning to Gaya after attending a wedding at Giridih in Jharkhand. The police acknowledged it was a case of kidnapping even though no ransom call was received by the Gupta family.
"But we have received some positive leads in the case that cannot be shared at this stage", Gaya SSP P Kannan told HT on Monday evening.
Investigators have been vigorously pursuing the case, especially after chief minister Nitish Kumar summoned Bihar director general of police (DGP) PK Thakur Sunday evening and asked him about the progress in the probe.
A top official told Hindustan Times the police were all the more desperate to make a breakthrough in the case as the state government was under tremendous pressure from the opposition, particularly the BJP, and from doctors.
The Bihar unit of the Indian Medical Association has threatened to paralyse medical services in Bihar unless the abducted doctor and his wife were recovered by Monday evening.
The BJP has cited the kidnapping as evidence of return of 'jungle raj' in Bihar, an allusion to the fluid crime situation in the state during the rule of RJD chief Lalu Prasad (1990-97) and his wife Rabri Devi (1997-2005).
"Now that the ruling JD (U) leadership has announced its 'merger' with Lalu Prasad led RJD, we are seeing the first evidence of return of kidnapping and extortion industry in Bihar", said BJP's Nand Kishore Yadav, leader of the opposition in Bihar assembly, on a day when both Lalu and Nitish were headed to New Delhi for another round of merger talks..
A special investigation team (SIT), constituted by the Bihar DGP has picked up at least seven persons in connection with the kidnapping. Their interrogation is on, but so far the police have not shown any results.
Upset, the Gaya chapter of IMA and the Chamber of Commerce, have decided to stage a huge rally in Gaya on Wednesday in protest against the police failure to rescue the doctor and his wife.
An officer said CCTV footage from the toll plaza at Barhi in Jharkhand showed the Audi car passing 12.33pm and the Dobhi sales tax check two minutes later on Friday. Thereafter, nothing is known about the couple or the Audi car.
The last location of the couple's cell phones was near Bhadeya village of Gaya district. It is suspected the abduction took place around this area, the police officer said.
"What is puzzling is the disappearance of their Audi car, as there are not many such high-end vehicles in the area," he added.
Investigators are also probing whether the car was hidden inside any of the huge containers moving along the national highway. "If that be the case, it would mean involvement of an inter-state gang," he added.
One police team is in Ranchi on the lookout for Rakesh Singh alias Dimpu, said to be the mastermind of the widely-reported abduction of Surat based textile trader Sohail Hingora, and his associate Dilip Kushwaha.
Another police team is in Rohtas in west Bihar, to meet minerals trader Ravi Ranjan Singh who was kidnapped along with his Toyota Fortuner and two associates around the same area where Dr Gupta and his wife were last traced.
Though Singh, according to police, was released one-and-half months later, allegedly on payment of ransom, his Fortuner was never returned.
"Singh was released in Kanpur after he was passed on among several gangs in course of his captivity of one-and-half month. But the ransom calls were made mostly from Begusarai and Motihari. This could have been a ploy to confuse the police," he added.
The third police team is visiting Chapra jail to interrogate five persons allegedly involved in Sohail Hingora's abduction."The police officials are trying to elicit some information from them, as the kingpin of the Hingora kidnapping case Chandan Sonar is still at large," said a police officer.
The investigating officer in the Hingora kidnapping case, RK Brahmachari, has also arrived in Gaya to assist the investigation. Besides, Gaya city SP Rakesh Kumar with a seven-member probe team, has left for UP after the police got some information.
The SIT led by CID IG Vinay Kumar is of the opinion that the doctor and his wife were being tracked since their departure from Gaya for Giridih and also on their return.