TRS leader’s nephew arrested in Telangana double murder case, but motive for killings still not clear

Published : February 22, 2021 16:13 IST

Advocates of the Telangana High Court march in protest against the murder of the lawyer couple G. Vaman Rao and Nagamani, in Hyderabad on February 18. Photo: NAGARA GOPAL

The police have taken into custody Thulesegari Srinivas, also known as Bittu Seenu, the nephew of a local leader of the ruling Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) in the double murder case that recently rocked the tiny municipal town of Manthani, in Telangana’s Peddapalli district. Bittu Seenu’s arrest on the night of February 19 comes close on the heels of the arrest of Kunta Srinivas, the TRS’ Manthani mandal unit president, for the same crime.

Although police investigations have uncovered nothing so far to substantiate the allegation of political reasons behind the killings, the fact that both Kunta Srinivas and Bittu Seenu are linked to the TRS has embarrassed the party and provided ammunition to the opposition ahead of next month’s elections to two seats of the legislative council and byelections to the Nagarjuna Sagar Assembly seat and a few urban local bodies. Though the TRS has announced the suspension of Kunta Srinivas from the party, the silence of Chief Minister Chandrasekhar Rao has to many been disconcerting.

Bittu Seenu is the fourth person to be picked up in the gruesome killing of G. Vaman Rao, 53, and G. Nagamani, 50, an advocate couple hailing from Peddapalli, who practised at the Telangana High Court. Congress and BJP leaders in Telangana have demanded an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) or a judicial probe. A division bench of the Telangana High Court comprising Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy, taking suo motu cognisance of the murder, has directed the State government to conduct a thorough probe and submit a status report. The Bench remarked that the entire State had been shaken from its stupor by the incident and that people were looking to the government to ensure a proper working of the rule of law.

The Telangana State Human Rights Commission has sought a report from the State Director General of Police by March 10 on the brutal killings. The killings saw lawyers boycott the courts across the State and protest demanding immediate arrest of and stringent punishment to the culprits.

On February 17, Vaman Rao and Nagamani, were travelling by car to Hyderabad after appearing for a case in a local court at Manthani when they were waylaid in broad daylight near Kalvacherla in Ramagiri mandal (under the Ramagiri police station jurisdictional limits), pulled out of the car and stabbed indiscriminately by unidentified persons who came in an SUV. The couple’s car was chased by the assailants for some distance before it was intercepted at Kalvacherla; the car’s windowpanes were smashed and Vaman Rao pulled out. The couple were then attacked with knives and sickles. The assailants ran their vehicle over a bleeding Vaman Rao as they escaped the crime scene.

The incident, caught by numerous bystanders, went viral on social media, with footage showing the couple being repeatedly stabbed by two persons on the road. Just before succumbing to his injuries, a profusely bleeding Vaman Rao, according to eyewitnesses and reports in the media, spelled out the name of one Kunta Srinivas, a party functionary of the ruling TRS as mastermind of the ghastly crime. Vaman Rao’s family members have alleged that some powerful TRS leaders were behind the gruesome murders since the couple were fighting cases in courts against the alleged illegal activities of ruling party leaders.

A day after the fatal attack, the police picked up Kunta Srinivas and two others, Chiranjeevi and Akkapaka Kumar, in connection with the crime. The Inspector General of Police (North Zone) Y. Nagi Reddy, speaking to the media, said Kunta Srinivas was among the two who carried out the attack. The assailants later dumped the weapons and their bloodstained clothes in a barrage. Nagi Reddy said Kunta Srinivas was arrested near the Maharashtra border.

According to the police, Bittu Seenu provided the car and sickles to Kunta Srinivas, his driver Chiranjeevi and Akkapaka Kumar. The police added that Bittu Seenu’s arrest was needed to connect the dots in the case. Bittu Seenu is the nephew of Putta Madhu, a former TRS legislator and Peddapalli Zilla Panchayat chairman. He is also the chairman of the Putta Lingamma Charitable Trust, a trust being run by Putta Madhu.

Preliminary police investigations revealed that Kunta Srinivas and Vaman Rao hailed from the same village, Gunjapadugu, and the immediate provocation appeared to be certain differences over the construction of a building near the Ramalayam (temple) in the village. The police said that the lawyer couple had on the day of their killing visited the village and later the Manthani court where they took signatures from the petitioner on some forms for a case relating to the temple. The couple were murdered 16 km from Manthani. Based on Vaman Rao’s father Kishan Rao’s complaint, police have registered cases against the accused under IPC Sections 302 (murder), 341 (wrongful restraint), 120B (criminal conspiracy), read with Section 34 (crime done by several persons).

The advocate couple were active in filing petitions under the Right to Information Act and public interest litigations (PILs) against the government, the police, and politicians. Two years ago they had taken up the case of M. Madhukar who was murdered for falling in love with a woman from a different caste. Their intervention was allegedly not taken kindly to by some TRS leaders. The couple had recently taken up the case of Seelam Rangaiah, a Dalit, who had died in Manthani police custody. A week back, Vaman Rao had taken a minor to the State Human Rights Commission after she was allegedly raped by her uncle and the police had been accused of dragging their feet on her complaint.

A former local public representative, Enumala Satish, has come out publicly to state that in 2018 he had filed a disproportionate assets case against Putta Madhu, when the latter was an MLA, and that Vaman Rao and his wife had argued the case on his behalf. Satish further alleged that Kunta Srinivas and Bittu Seenu had threatened him, demanding that he withdraw the case. Satish also claimed that though he had lodged a complaint with the police no action was taken. Putta Madhu has dismissed all the allegations, claiming that a section of the media was unnecessarily dragging him into the case.

The couple’s family claimed that the couple had moved the Telangana High Court last September seeking a direction to the government to give them protection as they faced a threat to their lives. The couple had alleged that the police, at the instance of those breaking the law, were harassing them by registering false cases against them.

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