In Vadhan’s novel, brutal murder of an MP raises suspicion about vigilante justice

Fear of God
By 
Book Excerpt 

The kidnapping and the subsequent murder of Prakash Kumar, a Member of Parliament from Uttarakhand, was widely and loudly covered in the media. It was sensational news. Prakash belonged to an elite family. His father was a senior minister in the central government, holding the very high-ranking portfolios of Commerce and Industry. His mother was a leading women’s rights activist.

Apart from being an MP, Prakash Kumar was an industrialist holding interests in several companies in India and abroad. His killing made for sensational news.

In the past, there had been several accusations against Prakash. Cases were registered against him under the Prevention of Corruption Act, Representation of People Act, Prevention of Money Laundering Act, under FEMA or Foreign Exchange Management Act, and so on. Some were filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation, others by the Enforcement Directorate and yet others by the Income Tax Department.

They were all pending in different courts under different stages of appeals. By and large, the prosecutors couldn’t manage to get any of the charges to stick. Which led to talks of poetic justice by certain sections of the media when reporting the politician’s murder.

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And then there was the video. Obviously, the murderer was a madman. Who kills a person because his vehicle could not be registered? Kumar had nothing to do with the registration of the vehicle. Many news reports dealt with the  larger point of it all. The message communicated was not about political killing. It was about punitive punishment.

It was about vigilante justice. No civil society survived on vigilante justice; surely not a mature and old country like India. But Prakash Kumar’s murder had vigilantism written all over it.

In a related development, the windmill deal was leaked to the media at about the same time as Kumar’s killing. It was an anonymous tip. It was not long before the two incidents were read as being part and parcel of each other. The media had a field day. Was there a connection between the shady deal and the murder? Was he murdered because of the deal?

The Swiss company that had been awarded the contract refuted the charges vehemently. Its media relations’ officer categorically denied any underhanded dealing. Everything was transparent and above board, they said. The Swiss  company followed all tenets of corporate governance to the hilt. Their statement tersely read that Kumar’s death was unfortunate. They had nothing to do with it. And they were sure the government of India would honour the contract.

The government of India, on the very next day following Kumar’s death, put the contract on hold, pending enquiry.

The Swiss government and the company lodged protests.

Thus, Kumar’s death became cause for international trade friction.

Prakash Kumar did not have much support at the grassroots and was considered by his party workers as being snooty. He was known to take care of his own. It was several months since he had last visited his constituency. The fact that his father, the silver-haired Pratap Kumar, was a Union Minister

and a close friend of the Prime Minister did not make the matter any easier for law enforcement agencies.

The police were being blamed for incompetence and failing in their duties. Additional Commissioner of Police, Kunwar Lal, investigating Prakash’s murder, knew the blame-game to be unfair. There was no intelligence of an attack on any Indian politician, let alone Prakash Kumar. There was not even the faintest whisper of it.

Not even the wildest of stories.

Nothing.

The Assistant Commissioner of Police was standing precisely where the man in the shadows had stood in Hauz Khas Village to fire his gun into the air three nights earlier.

There was no trace of the shooter. Not even spent cartridges.

Lal guessed that either he had picked up the cartridges after firing the shots or he had used a revolver, in which case the spent shells would still be lodged inside the gun’s chambers.

If the bullets had been fired straight into the air, they would have to fall to the ground. Gravity would take care of that.

But, if they were fired at an angle, they could have fallen or lodged into just about anything within half-a-kilometre radius. Still, it was worth a search operation.

The bullets could be traced. Or not. If it was a high calibre round, the chances of country-made ammunition being used for a job as slick as this one was remote. Contraband ammunition was like readymade clothes; made to fit a generic size. The too large and the too small were not readily available. If they were not illegally made, they could be traced.

The police had already initiated an investigation into complaints filed against Regional Transport Office officials by two-wheeler owners in connection with the registration of their vehicles. The reasoning was to see if they could find a disgruntled motorcycle owner going as far as to kill to vent his frustration. The police started with Delhi and neighbouring states falling under the NCR, national capital region. Really, it was like searching for a shiny needle in a needle factory.

A team of policemen were questioning every man and woman they could trace. Restaurant feedback forms, mobile numbers left at entrances by waitlisted patrons, credit and debit card information, images from CCTV feeds... Every source of information was being processed to trace just about everyone who had set foot into Hauz Khas Village on the fateful night.

A thirty-something man came to a halt besides Lal and saluted the ACP smartly.

‘Are you Kishan Lal?’ Kunwar asked the man.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Were you in-charge of Prakash Kumar’s security detail?’

‘Yes, sir, I was.’

‘How many of you?’

‘Four, sir’

‘Are all four accounted for?’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the policeman.

‘Who drove the MP’s car? Who was the in-vehicle escort?’

‘I… I assumed it was one of the men, sir. Two of us led the MP to the car. I assumed the other two…’

‘Two of you led him to the car.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘One of you jumped into the car as an escort?’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘But he wasn’t one of your men?’

‘I assumed he was one of the men. He was dressed like the rest of us.’

‘Aren’t you familiar with your detail?’

‘I am, sir.’

‘And yet, you failed to recognise that the escort was not one of your men.’

‘It… was complete chaos, sir.’

Kunwar did not say anything else. It must have been pandemonium, like a war zone. But that was precisely the point. The security detail is trained to handle exactly those situations. The men stood in silence.

‘I am sorry, sir.’

‘So am I, Inspector Lal. So am I. But that won’t help us now, will it?’

‘No, sir.’

‘You know what’s going to happen now, don’t you?’

The inspector remained silent, knowing only too well that he would be the face of incompetence of the force. He might be suspended from duty, even discharged. A tremendous loss of face for his family back in the village.

‘You may go now.’

The inspector saluted the ACP smartly and walked away, his shoulders slumped and face downcast.

Kunwar shrugged off the pity he felt for Kishan Lal.

The man had his chance. He had fucked up. There would be endless enquiries and post-mortem of Lal and his team.

Someone had to take the blame. Scapegoats were easy to come by. But that was for a later time. Now was not the time to ponder over it.

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