Gangster Mukhtar Ansari's aide shot dead outside court complex in Lucknow
The incident took place in the presence of police personnel and lawyers at the Lucknow district and sessions court complex.
An unidentified assailant dressed as a lawyer shot dead gangster Sanjeev Maheshwari, alias Jeeva, inside a courtroom in Lucknow on Wednesday, the audacious murder raising fresh questions about law-and-order arrangements in Uttar Pradesh and bringing back memories of a similar shooting in a Delhi court two years ago.
Two police constables and an 18-month-old girl were also injured as gunshots rang out in the courtroom shortly after Maheshwari, an aide of jailed gangster-turned-politician Mukhtar Ansari, was brought by the police for his appearance in a murder case around 4pm.
Maheshwari had 26 criminal cases against him dating back to 1995. He was serving a life sentence for the 1997 murder of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker Brahm Dutt Dwivedi.
Along with Mukhtar Ansari and gangster Prem Prakash Singh, alias Munna Bajrangi, Maheshwari was one of the co-accused in the murder of BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai, who was sprayed with bullets by a gang of assailants armed with assault weapons, in Ghazipur district on November 29, 2005. Bajrangi was killed in Baghpat jail in 2018.
Lucknow deputy commissioner of police (DCP) West, Rahul Raj, confirmed that the assailant – identified as Vijay Yadav, a resident of Jaunpur’s Kerakat area – was dressed as a lawyer and was already present inside the courtroom before Maheshwari was brought. He fired at least six bullets at the 48-year-old gangster, who suffered wounds on his chest.
Yadav was arrested from the spot, Raj added.
The incident took place in the presence of police personnel and lawyers at the Lucknow district and sessions court complex inside the designated scheduled caste (SC) and scheduled tribe (ST) courtroom, said Raj. Maheshwari had at least half a dozen policemen around him when the shots were fired. The crime brought back memories of the 2021 murder of gangster Jitender Mann, alias Gogi. On September 24, 2021, two men dressed as lawyers opened fire inside a courtroom in Delhi’s Rohini Court complex and killed Maan before being gunned down by police personnel. The Lucknow murder showed that despite a spate of shoot-outs, security arrangements inside courts – where safety should be of paramount importance, given the presence of high-profile criminals, vulnerable witnesses and victims, in addition to hordes of police personnel – were still shoddy. It highlighted that the police and administration must need to work on war footing to ensure security to courts.
The killing also raised questions about Uttar Pradesh’s law-and-order situation. The state’s law-and-order reputation already suffered a hit earlier this year, when gangster Atiq Ahmad and his brother Khalid Azeem were shot dead by two assailants while in police custody, in the premises of a hospital. Similar questions were raised on Wednesday about how the assailant walked into a courtroom with a gun, without any checks or surveillance systems flagging the weapon.
Eyewitnesses said a police constable and an 18-month-old girl, who were present in the court room in another case, were also injured. They are undergoing treatment at the King George’s Medical University (KGMU) trauma centre, said Raj.
Raj said constable Lal Mohammed suffered a bullet wound on his leg while the child sustained a bullet wound on her back. The second constable was injured in the stampede after the shooting. He suffered an injury on his head, said Raj. No details about his identity were provided.
Ankit Porwal, a lawyer present outside the court room, said the incident happened around 3.50-3.55pm. He rushed towards the court room of additional district judge Narendra Kumar, who is the special judge of SC/ST court, after hearing gunshots. “I spotted the assailant standing with a gun in his hand and Maheshwari lying unconscious on the floor,” Porwal added.
He said he heard around five rounds of firing before the assailant was overpowered by a group of police personnel present on the scene.
A three-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) was constituted to investigate the incident, the chief minister’s office said in a statement. The SIT comprises additional director general (Technical) Mohit Agarwal, joint commissioner of police (Lucknow) Nilabja Chaudhary, inspector general of police (Ayodhya) Praveen Kumar.
The SIT was asked to submit its report within a week, an official said.
“The condition of both the cops who were injured during the firing along with the girl child is now stable,” ADG (Lucknow) Piyush Mordia said later on Wednesday. A doctor at the trauma centre confirmed that the young girl’s condition was stable, though the bullet had yet to be extracted.
“We are keeping a close watch on her condition. At present, her condition is stable but she is under continuous observation,” said Dr Yadvendra Dhir, the paedictric trauma expert at the medical university under whom the girl was admitted.
“We have not yet planned to take out the bullet. It pierced through the skin and is located on the side of the chest. The bullet entered the body from behind,” said Dhir.
The doctor said that the decision to take out the bullet depends upon her ability to face anesthesia as well as keeping in mind the early damage, if any, to the vital organs. “We will observe her condition first and then take any decision,” said Dhir.
Upendra Kumar Agarwal, joint commissioner of police, Law and Order, Lucknow, said police teams were investigating how many people came to kill Maheshwari. He said the arrested accused was quizzed about the motive and whether any other person was involved in the killing.
Special DG (law and order) Prashant Kumar has issued an order, directing all district superintendents of police to immediately increase security in all district courts. Metal detectors and other equipment will also be installed on the court premises.
Security has been beefed up in all the courts across the state and at several sensitive places, including Lucknow and in several West UP districts too, Kumar said, adding that section 144 has been imposed in a number of districts where unlawful gathering of more than four people has been prohibited.