The Bharatiya Jana Sangh fudged evidence in order to blame its leader’s murder on a conspiracy, but Justice Chandrachud saw through these efforts.
Deen Dayal Upadhyaya was elected president of the Jana Singh in December 1967. On February 10, 1968, in the evening, he left Lucknow for Patna by the Sealdah Express. The train left Varanasi at about 1.40 am and, after stopping at Kashi for about five minutes, it steamed into Mughalsarai at about 2.10 am. But Upadhyaya was not on the train. Ten minutes later, his dead body was found lying near a traction pole 748 feet from the end of the platform of Mughalsarai station on which the train halted. He was clutching a five-rupee note in his hand. The last time anyone saw him alive was at Jaunpur, shortly after midnight.
One M.P. Singh, who travelled in the adjoining cabin of the same coach, saw someone enter Upadhyaya’s cabin at Mughalsarai and walk off with his file and bedding. This man he identified in court as Bharat Lal. Together with one Ram Awadh, Bharat Lal was charged with murder and theft. Both were acquitted of the capital charge, while Bharat Lal alone was convicted of the theft of the belongings of the deceased. He appealed to the Allahabad high court. The sessions judge remarked in his judgment that ‘the offence of murder not having been proved against the accused, the problem of truth about the murder still remains’.
Over 70 MPs demanded a commission of inquiry to ascertain this truth. The government of India promptly agreed and appointed Justice Y.V. Chandrachud of Bombay high court as the sole member of the commission. Although, strictly speaking, parties are not arrayed before a commission of inquiry as prosecutor and accused, in reality the Jan Sangh was very much the prosecutor before the commission. Upadhyaya’s murder was politically motivated, it said. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to whom, ironically, the case had been specially entrusted to ensure independent investigation, was attacked for deliberately suppressing the political origin of the crime by giving a commonplace slant to it and making scapegoats of two notorious railway thieves.
How many people read reports of commissions of inquiry? Very few, which is a pity – for, they contain much useful and interesting material, though retailed in a pedestrian style. Justice Chandrachud’s report departs from the pattern only in that, revealing as the contents are, the style is not only clear but lively.
That Upadhyaya was murdered was not contested by anybody. Only, the CBI said, the murder was committed by common thieves for small gain, and was conceived and executed on the spur of the moment. The Jan Sangh certainly put the CBI on the mat, as it were, by making a frontal attack on it. But little did it realise that the specific accusations it made and the mass of evidence it adduced put the credibility of the party itself on trial at the same time.
The Jan Sangh’s treasurer, Nanaji Deshmukh, was chairman of a committee appointed by the Sangh’s president to collect data relating to the murder. He filed his statement of the case and figured as one of the 51 witnesses examined by the Jan Sangh before the commission. The CBI examined 23.
Justice Chandrachud’s report analyses in meticulous detail the evidence and the arguments advanced. In the result, the findings acquire a weight of their own. These findings are: ‘That Shri Upadhyaya was pushed out of the running train when he was standing near the door of the I Class compartment of the F.C.T. Bogie’; that he dashed against the traction pole and ‘died an instantaneous death’; and the injuries on his person were caused in a single transaction and they were such as could not have been caused inside the compartment. He also held that the murder ‘was accompanied by an immediate theft, which shows that the two are part and parcel of the same transaction.’ Finally, the judge observed: ‘I can say with a certain amount of confidence that nothing that has come before me can support the accusation that there was any politics in Shri Upadhyaya’s murder. Undoubtedly, he had political rivals but his death is the rash and extempore handiwork of mere thieves.’ Neither the communists nor the ‘communalists’ (Muslims, no doubt) accused by the Jan Sangh, nor Dr A.J. Faridi of the Muslim Majlis, ‘are connected, directly or indirectly, with the murder’. As for the CBI, it conducted the investigation with care and objectivity.
Clues which were replete with possibilities were pursued by them. Clues which were merely fanciful had to be left alone. Sins of commission and omission fall to the lot of all policemen and one must confess that the debit side of the CBI is not quite blank. But there is no substance in the charge that they acted mala fide.
The Jan Sangh’s Case
The Jan Sangh’s case was that certain Muslim organisations had held Upadhyaya responsible for the communal riots at Meerut. It was openly declared that Jan Sangh leaders had to be eliminated. Some Communists, it said, were willing to lend a helping hand to the communalists. Ever since the Calicut session, which was held in December 1967, Upadhyaya was being shadowed by suspicious characters. Ultimately, the Communists and communalists joined hands, and took the help of Major Surendra Mohan Sharma for perpetrating the murder of Upadhyaya. Major Sharma is the son-in-law of V.N. Sharma, who in turn was said to be closely connected with Dr Faridi, the president of ‘Majlis Mushawarat’. Major Sharma travelled in the I Class compartment of the FCT bogie from Lucknow so that he could wait for an opportune moment to execute the conspiracy. At the other end, namely, at Mughalsarai, the Communists had taken the necessary steps to further the object of the conspiracy. Accordingly, Upadhyaya was murdered in the running train after it had left Zaferabad at 12.41 am. He must have been struck on the right side of his head while entering the ‘B’ cabin with the right side towards the corridor. Thereafter he must have been thrown on the berth, with someone sitting on his chest and someone on his legs. The dead body was subsequently placed near the traction pole to simulate an accident.
Clearly, central to this thesis are the roles of Major Sharma and Dr Faridi, and the links between them. Major S.M. Sharma was married just three weeks before the murder. He left Lucknow by the same train as Upadhyaya. He was told that a berth was reserved for him in the ‘C’ cabin of the FCT bogie which Upadhyaya occupied. He found to his dismay that his name was mentioned in the reservation chart as Major S.L. Sharma having ticket No. 06172 instead of No. 06171, the number of his ticket. Since neither name nor ticket number tallied, he went to the Train Service Coach in which he found accommodation. But his name was noted in the reservation chart as Major S.N. Sharma! The Major gave irrefutable evidence that he travelled as far as Gamoh and reached his regiment late on 11 February.
Dr A.J. Faridi is a heart specialist practising at Lucknow. He is the founder-president of the Muslim Majlis. The Jan Sangh examined three witnesses in support of its case that not only Communists but Muslims like Faridi had conspired to murder Upadhyaya. The evidence of the first witness did not even connect Faridi by name with the public meeting of which he deposed. The second did, but his version of Faridi’s speech was not borne out by the very journal in which he said it was reported – and the Jan Sangh’s counsel conceded as much. The last witness came to depose to cordial relations between V.N. Sharma, the Major’s father-in-law and Faridi. Unfortunately for him, the judge had before him a certified copy of a criminal complaint filed by Sharma against Faridi, alleging trespass in respect of a part of the premises let out by Faridi to ‘Cipla’ company of which Sharma was the branch manager. Another record showed the company to be in arrears of rent from November 1966 to January 1970. ‘This certainly is not evidence of cordiality’, the judge remarked.
In my opinion, the charge against Dr Faridi that he is connected with the murder of Shri Upadhyaya is baseless. It is significant that in the report of the Committee appointed by Shri Vajpayee, of which Shri Nanaji Deshmukh was the Chairman, there is no reference to Dr Faridi whatsoever.
But, quite inconsistently with the theory of a known Major Sharma being the culprit as a tool of Faridi, the Sangh also put forward the theory of a stranger masquerading as Major Sharma and travelling in the same compartment with Upadhyaya. Neither probability nor any evidence supported this theory. ‘A pretender feigning to be Major Sharma would not court the risk of borrowing his initials and his ticket number so closely, especially, when the real Major Sharma was travelling by the same train.’
The evidence in favour of the stranger’s presence was equally unconvincing. Kamal, the conductor of the Sealdah Express, said he saw at Lucknow a man in the cabin adjoining Upadhyaya’s who answered ‘Yes’ to the query ‘Major Saheb?’. But in that very cabin travelled two other passengers whom Kamal did not notice. Other infirmities apart, the judge remarked:
In fact, Kamal does not appear to have gone anywhere near the FCT bogie. Shri Ram Prakash, the Deputy Chief Minister, Shri Pitambar Das, Harishchandra and others had gone to the station to see Upadhyaya off and they were all standing in a group in front of the ‘B’ cabin. Kamal says that he saw no one on the platform near about the ‘B’ cabin.
The Jan Sangh’s case was that the murder was committed in the compartment; the CBI’s, that it was done by pushing Upadhyaya out of the moving train. The commission’s observations on some of the circumstantial factors are noteworthy.
I am unable to agree that the bloodstains in the compartment and the toilet, which should have been found if the murder was committed in the compartment, might have got wiped out or washed in the normal process when the bogie was cleaned. It is clear from the evidence of S.R. Kandu, the train examiner at Howrah, that it was not washed before it was sealed. . . . It is significant that the clothes on the person of Shri Upadhyaya and the articles in the bedding showed no signs of struggle. There was no tear on any part of the clothing. There was no injury on the face and indeed there was no defensive injury on any part of Shri Upadhyaya’s person.
The nature of the injuries also went against the Sangh’s theory. It produced two witnesses travelling in the adjoining III class compartment who said they heard a shriek and a thud, something which M.P. Singh, Upadhyaya’s next-door neighbour in the same coach, did not. On other points they were proved false, besides, and their evidence rejected.
Such rejections abound in the report. The CBI’s witness, Dr Bhushan Rao, opined that death must have occurred almost instantaneously after the head injury; the Sangh’s witness Dr R.N. Kataria stated that at least an hour elapsed between the time the injuries were caused and the death. Dr Kataria was associated with the Jan Sangh a little before 1968.
There is an interesting sidelight to Dr Kataria’s evidence. The Jan Sangh produced before me a truncated cutting from the Organizer dated the 18th February, 1968. It says that one could make ‘the following’ statement after discussing the matter regarding Shri Upadhyaya’s death with Shri Ram Prakash, Shri Balraj Madhok, Shrimati Khanna and ‘a leading surgeon’. In that cutting, what follows has not been included. It has been cleverly cut out. (Emphasis added)
The surgeon was proved before the commission to be Dr Kataria himself.
Exercise in cleverness
The commission found out the reason for the exercise of the cleverness.
It is interesting to have a look at the whole of the news item dated the 18th of February. It says expressly on page 2, that according to the opinion of ‘A leading surgeon of Delhi . . . only the sudden stroke in the head, causing instantaneous death, can explain the closed eyes and the calm face.’ Reading this, one can understand why the whole of the cutting was not placed before me. It is clear that the initial opinion of Dr Kataria was that death must have occurred instantaneously as a result of the head injury. He has now made a valiant effort to establish that death must have supervened an hour after the injuries were caused, but I regret to have to say that his opinion is influenced by his political affiliation. I find myself unable to accept that opinion.
The commission gave short shrift to all the talk about the deceased being shadowed by unknown persons before his death, the presence of Communists near the traction pole and the like. A file which Upadhyaya carried could not be traced, though his bedding was. ‘Nanaji Deshmukh and Ashwini Kumar, the organising secretary of the Bihar Jan Sangh, have stated in their evidence that Upadhyaya used to collect information about the activities of the anti-nationals.’ However it is remarkable that in the report of the committee presided over by Nanaji Deshmukh there was no reference at all to the file or the diaries.
A got-up document
Ramacharya Panday, a party worker, said he heard of the death on 11 February in the morning and passed on the information, among others, to Shri Nanaji Deshmukh, who asked him to proceed to Mughalsarai and collect information regarding the death. Panday did so and made jottings in his diary.
The judge found the diary to be a got-up document. Thus, Nanaji Deshmukh gave Upadhyaya’s itinerary to DIG Lobo on 2 March. The diary noted it in advance on February 17. What was claimed to be a personal diary of a poet–politician turned out to be a got-up investigation diary with large blanks.
If there was no political event worth noting in the diary during those days, his Muse at least could not have so cruelly deserted him . . . I must express my disapproval that anyone should have been a party to the fabrication of a document for the purpose of producing it as evidence.
Shri Deshmukh himself does not escape unscathed.
I cannot accept Shri Nanaji Deshmukh’s statement that he had told Ramacharya on the 11th morning on phone that he should collect the relevant information. Nanaji was then in Bombay and knew nothing about the murder. In fact, there is a good basis for doubting that Ramacharya at all telephoned Nanaji from Lucknow on the 11th morning. Om Prakash Chatwal of the Lucknow Telephone Exchange, who was examined before me by the CBI, has stated that no trunk call was made from telephone number 23509 (Lucknow) to Bombay on the 11th February, 1968. 23509 is the telephone number of the Jan Sangh Karyalaya, Lucknow, where Ramacharya says he received the information about Shri Upadhyaya’s death.
A sad comment, indeed.
Groping in the dark
Justice Chandrachud’s censures were restrained by compassion. A passage in the report explains why the Jan Sangh behaved as it did.
It seems to me that in their moment of grief, those interested in Shri Upadhyaya were groping in the dark to discover the truth. They did not even hesitate to commit the planchette but they were not satisfied with the answers they got there. As reported in the ‘Organizer’ dated the 10th of March, 1968, the planchette favoured the story that a drunken man with a masked face knocked on the door of Shri Upadhyaya’s cabin, entered the cabin, twisted his arm, sat on his chest, and hit on his head before the train had reached Varanasi, but while the train was travelling at a slow speed. This theory was found unsuitable, and was dropped. In a quest for a more plausible theory, politics was imported into the crime. I do not think that either planchette or politics can yield a correct solution to the problem before me.
So understanding was the judge that he rejected the CBI’s criticism of the Jan Sangh’s case on the score of its inconsistencies.
To the extent to which false evidence has been produced before me, I must express my strong disapproval. That, however, is in the same vein in which I have expressed my disapproval of some of the lapses on the part of the CBI. I do not see justification for finding fault with the Jan Sangh merely because they propounded different theories at different times.
Each theory was examined on its merits.
Barely was the report published when Organiser came out with the indictment: ‘Chandrachud Follows in Shah Nawaz’s Footsteps’. Three weeks later came a detailed critique. Missing in the articles was any reference to the cleverly torn clipping, the fabricated diary, and the Jan Sangh’s false and rejected witnesses. Ironically, the first issue of Organiser also carried an editorial entitled ‘Monkeying with the Judiciary’. Its intemperate attack on Justice Chandrachud, however, does not reveal a respect for the judiciary much higher than that shown by advocates of a ‘committed judiciary’.
This report was first published in The Illustrated Weekly of India on April 25, 1971, and was reprinted in A.G. Noorani’s Islam, South Asia and the Cold War (Tulika Books, 2012). It has been republished here with the author’s permission.