Kamlesh Tiwari's mysterious murder

Print edition : November 22, 2019

Family members of the slain Kamlesh Tiwari meeting Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath at his residence in Lucknow on October 20. Photo: PTI

Outside the office-cum-residence of Kamlesh Tiwari after his murder in Lucknow October 18. Photo: PTI

Kamlesh Tiwari. Photo: PTI

Hindu Samaj Party leader Kamlesh Tiwari’s political and personal journey and the complicated ways in which these progressed raise doubts about whether his murder is an “open-and-shut case” as the Uttar Pradesh government would have one believe.

THE multiple narratives that surround the October 18 murder of Kamlesh Tiwari (45), chief of the little known Hindu Samaj Party (HSP), have added yet another sordid chapter to the numerous mysterious accidents and killings that abound in the annals of various Hindutva expeditions, primarily executed over the past few decades by the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and its associates in the Sangh Parivar. The narratives on this murder have emanated essentially from three different sources. One, the government authorities consisting of the investigating team of the police, the higher officials in the Police Department and the political establishment of the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh. Two, the family of Tiwari, including his mother and wife, as also his friends and associates. Three, observers of Tiwari’s political activity and social engagements.

While all the three portrayals have different nuances, they agree on certain basic facts: that Tiwari was attacked on October 18 in the HSP office in the Khurshed Bagh area of Lucknow by a small group of assailants who slit his throat, stabbed him several times and shot him in the face with a pistol, which was concealed in a box of sweets. And that he was taken to a nearby hospital with multiple injuries and was declared brought dead by the doctors. But when it comes to the reasons for the incident and the sociopolitical interpretations based on them, each of the narratives has disparate and, at times, even contradictory takes.

As per the version of the authorities, including the political leadership of the Yogi Adityanath government, Tiwari was murdered by an unnamed Islamist extremist group, whose members were agitated by a public speech he made in 2015, wherein he railed against the Prophet Muhammad. The speech had led to widespread protests in the Muslim community immediately after it was made and his arrest under the National Security Act (NSA).

The authorities hold that the members of the Islamist group were infuriated by Tiwari’s apparent plans to make a film titled Rangeela Rasool (Colorful Prophet), which was expected to portray the Prophet in a disparaging light. Following this contention, Director General of Police O.P. Singh announced that several people had been arrested by a joint police team of Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat in connection with the murder. The prominent ones among the accused were identified as Ashfaq Hussain, Moinuddin Khurshid Pathan, Maulana Mohsin Sheikh and Faizan, who were arrested by the Gujarat Anti-Terror Squad near Shamlaji in Gujarat. Both the Uttar Pradesh and Gujarat Police also claimed that the conspiracy to kill Tiwari was hatched over a number of months using a variety of means, including WhatsApp groups.

But this police version is only partially accepted by Tiwari’s immediate family, including his wife, Kiran, and his mother, Kusum. They agree that the two people who have been arrested by the investigating team were at Tiwari’s place when the attack took place. But they also add that this by itself does not mean that the investigation is on the right track. They believe that there are larger forces behind the murder, prominent among them being the Yogi Adityanath government.

“It was after Yogi Adityanath came to power that my son’s security was drastically reduced. My son was getting repeated threats; this government ignored them. It is this administration that has betrayed us. At one point of time during the previous Samajwadi Party [S.P.] government [headed by Akhilesh Yadav], my son had a security cover of around 17 personnel, including home guards. When Yogi Adityanath became Chief Minister, the security cover was first reduced to eight persons and then to four. Two of them followed my son wherever he went while two were stationed at his office. But on the day my son was murdered, none of the four security guards was with him. There was only one home guard and, that too, with just a lathi. Why was his security reduced drastically in the first place? And why was he not provided even the reduced security on the day of the killing?” Kusum Tiwari posed these questions both before the media and to people who visited her. She went on to add that “the police will finally parade some innocent persons and say these are the ones who killed my son, while giving protection to the mafia”.

Nine demands

Kiran and Kusum Tiwari made nine demands they wanted the Chief Minister to meet and announced that they would cremate the body only if they were met. The demands included a probe by the National Investigation Agency, a government job for one of the sons of the victim and security for the family. They also demanded that the Chief Minister visit them before the body was cremated. None of the demands was met. Kusum Tiwari also alleged that the police kept on “harassing” her family after her son’s death and for nearly 12 hours they refused to hand over Kamlesh Tiwari’s body saying “there would be riots”. Kusum Tiwari was later taken for a meeting with Yogi Adityanath after which she said that she was forced to meet the Chief Minister. She added that her daughter-in-law was beaten up by the police when she expressed her resentment about the family being forced to meet the Chief Minister. Reacting to the ex gratia relief of Rs.15 lakh that the State government offered, she said the government was trying to silence her with money. “They wanted to shut me up with the money, but I will not keep quiet. I will continue to raise my voice,” she told the media in Lucknow.

Tiwari’s friends and associates in both the HSP and other Hindutva-oriented organisations suggested that his relationship with the constituents of the Sangh Parivar, especially with the leadership of the Viswa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was not at all friendly. “In fact, the relationship could even be termed inimical. Tiwari was particularly harsh in his criticism of Sangh Parivar leaders such as Yogi Adityanath and the VHP’s Champak Rai. He was of the opinion that these leaders built their Hindutva credentials to exploit them later for short-term political gains.

He was of the view that these leaders were fooling the people, who genuinely believed in the Hindutva ideology and Hindu Rashtra,” a close associate of Tiwari in the HSP told Frontline on condition of anonymity. He was also of the view that while the involvement of Islamist extremists could not be ruled out in Tiwari’s murder, especially because of the constant clashes he had with them, the ideological, organisational and individual tussles he had within the Hindutva camp also needed to be probed in order to ensure a fair inquiry.

Several political observers in Uttar Pradesh as also some of his associates and friends recalled how Tiwari was attracted to the Sangh Parivar as an adolescent and how he became disenchanted within a few years. It was during the high points of the Sangh Parivar-led Ayodhya agitation in the early 1990s that Tiwari got attracted to Hindutva and its organisational structures. He was barely into his teens at that time, but he organised a group of “young Hindutva warriors” who marched from Mahmoodabad near Lucknow to Ayodhya in early December 1992 and actively took part in the demolition of the Babri Masjid. He joined the Bajrang Dal and was vocal in showing his admiration for stalwarts and firebrands such as Ashok Singhal, Lal Krishna Advani, Sadhvi Rithambara and Uma Bharati at that point. However, when the BJP suffered shock reverses in the 1993 Assembly election at the hands of the S.P.-Bahujan Samaj Party combine, the Sangh Parivar backtracked on the aggressive Hindutva plank and sought to build up a wider appeal by projecting the so-called moderate face of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. As the Ayodhya issue got further tangled in legal disputes, Tiwari’s disenchantment grew. He started seeing the very leaders he had earlier perceived as committed Hindutva warriors as compromisers and betrayers.

Hindu Mahasabha

Soon, in 1994, he formed the Hindu Tiger Force (HTF), a grouping of fanatical Hindu youths who paraded their religious intolerance with pride. Tiwari was the self-styled “supreme commander” of the organisation. Between 1995 and 1998, the HTF sought to emerge as the premier Hindutva outfit, but this did not work out well. Then, in 1998, Tiwari and his team joined the Hindu Mahasabha. Over the next eight years, until about 2010, Tiwari rose steadily through the ranks of the Mahasabha. He became its State president and then its national working president for a brief period.

But, by that time, factionalism had become rampant in the Mahasabha, and Tiwari lost out and was expelled. Still, he persisted with its twofold political and ideological agenda, which consisted of virulent attacks on minorities on the one side and steady criticism of the Sangh Parivar’s betrayals on the other.

Following up on the latter stream, in 2011, he even got himself impleaded in the Ayodhya case in the Supreme Court. He became “applicant number six” when challenges were filed against the 2010 orders of the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court, which had ordained equal division of the land among the three main parties in the title suit, namely the Sunni Central Waqf Board, the Nirmohi Akhara and Ram Lalla Virajman. In 2015, even as the proceedings in the case were progressing rather slowly, Tiwari once again brought attention on himself through the much-noticed and much-criticised derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad. His statements sparked communal tensions and angry protests from Muslims. The S.P. government arrested him under the NSA. However, in 2016, the Allahabad court released him on bail. The same year, he sparked yet another controversy by declaring his plans to build a temple in the memory of Nathuram Godse, the assassin of Mahatma Gandhi, although nothing concrete came out of the plans.

Clearly, Tiwari’s political and personal journey and the complicated ways in which these have progressed raise doubts about whether his murder is such an open-and-shut case as the State government and its law enforcement and investigating agencies would have one believe. Commenting on the three narratives that have come up in the context of the murder, S.P. leader Professor Sudhir Kumar Panwar told Frontline that the Ayodhya connection in this case too was interesting. “The internecine warfare over Ayodhya within the Hindutva outfits has taken many lives over the past three decades.

The most prominent among them was Mahant Lal Das, the priest of the Ayodhya Ram temple in the early 1990s, who was committed to protecting communal harmony and peace in the region and was hounded by the VHP for that very reason. The gang wars within Hindutva outfits have led to several killings. According to some estimates, it is in the range of 50 to 60. Perhaps, this Ayodhya angle, too, needs to be part of a larger investigation, especially because Kamlesh Tiwari was impleaded in the case, whose verdict is expected any time now.”

Panwar’s observations add a different value to the murder and its investigation even as the other three narratives keep clashing in the social, legal and political firmaments of Uttar Pradesh.

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