A close aide of jailed Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader Mohammad Shahabuddin was questioned on Saturday over the killing of a senior journalist in Bihar’s Siwan town, with investigators focussing on a possible political motive for the murder.
Rajdeo Ranjan, 42, the head of Hindi daily Hindustan in Siwan, was shot dead by unidentified men on Friday.
Police found two CCTV cameras near the spot were malfunctioning for the past two days. Footage from a third CCTV was being scanned.
Among two people detained for questioning was Upendra Kumar Singh, 45, a close associate of Shahabuddin, a former RJD MP serving a life sentence for the murder of two brothers. Singh was briefly arrested over the murder of Shrikant Bharti, an associate of the sitting BJP MP from Siwan, in November 2014.
“The (Ranjan) case has an uncanny resemblance to that of the murder of Bharti. The place and site of Bharti and Rajdeo’s murder is the same and the same crowd cover was used to make getaways,” said Ajit Rai, director general of police, Saran range.
Investigators told HT that Ranjan spent the last few months probing Bharti’s death, for which he had blamed Shahabuddin in his news reports for Hindustan, a sister publication of Hindustan Times. Ranjan was also said to have helped release a video clip of a meeting between Abdul Gafoor, a minister in the Nitish Kumar cabinet, and Shahabuddin at the Siwan jail in March.
“If it is such a case, it could even be a politically-aided killing,” said an investigator.
Ranjan’s killing came within hours of another journalist’s murder in neighbouring Jharkhand.
India has emerged as one of the most unsafe places for journalists, who are often targeted for exposing illegal acts of politicians and criminals. Earlier this year, two journalists were arrested in Chhattisgarh and another hounded out of the state for writing on alleged excesses by government forces during anti-Maoist operations.
Last year, nine journalists were killed in the country with only war-torn Syria and Iraq recording more deaths.
Ranjan’s father, Radhkrishna Choudhary, sought a CBI inquiry, a demand echoed by the opposition BJP. The party said: “The needle of suspicion points to a jailed ‘bahubali’ (muscleman).”
Police said Ranjan’s killing appeared to be a professional hit as he was shot in the temple and the neck to ensure instant death. Call details on mobile phone were also being scanned.
“The route did not fall in Rajdeo’s regular way to home and it seems his leaving his office suddenly could have resulted from a call he received from the killers,” a police official said.
The Press Council of India on Saturday formed a three-member panel to probe the murder of the two journalists.
Ranjan’s remains were cremated in his ancestral village, Hakam, 145km north-west of Patna.