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Bhopal: The key accused in the attack against producer-director Prakash Jha and his web series Ashram set in Bhopal on October 24 is convicted in a murder case and shares close ties with top BJP and RSS leaders, leading all the way upto Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
Sushil Sudele, who is central India’s convener of the right-wing outfit Bajrang Dal, is a relative of Madhya Pradesh BJP state vice-president and former Bhopal mayor Alok Sharma. Although Sudele was awarded life imprisonment in a 2011 murder case, he has been out on bail since September 2015.
A day after the attack on the web series’ set, on October 25, the Bhopal police registered a suo motu FIR (first information report) and booked senior functionaries of Bajrang Dal, which operates as the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the RSS.
Police booked Sudele, Jeevan Sharma, Abhijeet, Deelip, Karan, Sharwan Botham and Suneel Soni under Sections 147, 148, 149, 323, 336 and 427 of the Indian Penal Code. All sections are bailable.
Confirming the registration of the FIR, the town inspector of Arera Hills police station, Bhopal, R.K. Singh said, “Seven Bajrang Dal men, including Sudele, have been booked for attacking the ongoing shooting of Ashram, season three. The FIR was filed under six sections of the IPC a day after the incident.”
When asked if there were any arrests, he said, “No arrests have been made yet. But, the notices have been served to the accused, ordering them to appear in the court when they are summoned.”
Hours after the incident on October 24, Bhopal police detained four Bajrang Dal activists and booked them under Section 151 of the CrPc in MP Nagar police station. But they obtained bail the following day from Bhopal district court.
Meanwhile, the shooting of the web series is continuing amid heavy police protection, according to DIG Bhopal, Irashad Wali. “We have assured director-producer Prakash Jha and the shooting crew of protection. Police have been deployed at the shooting site to prevent any further incidents,” he added.
Sushil Sudele’s criminal antecedents
The main accused in the attack, Sudele was convicted by a Bhopal court in 2014 on conspiracy charges in connection with the murder of Bhagchand alias Pappu, owner of Bhopal-based Gurukirpa Travels, on February 5, 2011 after the latter refused to give extortion money demanded by the former.
He was convicted under Section 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the IPC and was awarded a 14-year jail term along with a penalty of Rs 1,000.
As per court orders, Sudele used to extort money from Bhagchand. Bhagchand lodged a police complaint against Sudele at Hanumanganj police station and submitted a video clip in which Sudele can be seen demanding money. The businessman also leaked the video to the media.
Enraged at this, Sudele’s five accomplices attacked Bhaghchand with sticks and swords and ransacked his shop on February 5, 2011, forcing him to withdraw the complaint. But, the travel agent managed to escape and reached Hanumanganj police station with severe injuries and lodged a police complaint. However, he succumbed to head injuries four days later.
After Bhagchand’s death, police booked Sudele, Nilesh Khatike, Rajkumar Chourasiya, Arvind Narwariya, Virendra Yadav, Gopal Yadav under Sections 294 (obscene acts and songs), 147 (punishment for rioting), 148 (rioting, armed with deadly weapon), 149 (every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), 506-B (punishment for criminal intimidation), 427 (mischief causing damage to the amount of fifty rupees), 302 (murder) and 120-B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of IPC and arrested them, the court order reveals.
The court found them guilty and a single-judge bench of justice Amitabh Mishra of the Bhopal district court awarded 14 years of imprisonment and levied a fine on all the accused, including Sudele, almost three years after the incident on February 5, 2014.
But two of the accused – Sudele and his accomplice from the Bajrang Dal, Rajkumar Chourasiya – obtained bail on September 28, 2015.
While Rajkumar is currently working as a supervisor for the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, Sudele, who was then a Bajrang Dal worker, has now been elevated to the position of convener for the outfit’s central India unit.
In several photos of Sudele obtained by The Wire, Sudele can be seen with Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at the latter’s official residence along with home minister Narottam Mishra, RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat and other BJP and RSS leaders.
‘MP government offering patronage to criminals’: Digvijay Singh
Terming Bajrang Dal activists as “criminals with political patronage”, two-term former chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Digvijay Singh lashed out at director-producer Prakash Jha for his “spineless attitude” towards the attackers, as he did not lodge a police complaint. He also dashed off a letter to chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan drawing his attention to Sudele and his accomplice Rajkumar Chourasiya’s criminal backgrounds and their association with the right-wing outfits.
“How can a person who is convicted for murder and awarded a jail term of 14-year become a government employee? Does MP Civil Services Rules-1961 and Municipal Corporation Act allow a criminal to become a government employee? Besides, Sushil Sudele, a Bajrang Dal man, who was awarded 14 years of jail term, has been out on bail since 2015 to disrupt peace, attack and threat filmmakers in the garb of religion openly.”
In the two-page letter, the veteran Congress leader said, “You (Shivraj Singh Chouhan) have said that you would bury criminals deep in the earth. Then how can you allow murder convicts to roam freely and create unrest in the society?”
Singh also urged the chief minister, director general of police (DGP) Vivek Johri and chief secretary Iqbal Singh Bais to take stern action against both the murder convicts and restore law and order in the state.
Continuing further, Singh said, “Bajrang Dal has become an organisation of criminals and has political patronage of the ruling BJP leaders and police administration. Recently, Bajrang Dal men killed a Congress worker in cold blood in Mandla district. But instead of taking stern action, SP Mandla was trying to protect them. And within months of the murder, all are out on bail.”
When The Wire raised the issue of Sushil Sudele’s conviction in a murder case and his association with Bajrang Dal, Rajesh Tiwari, Chetra Mantri of VHP central India, said, “He is the regional head of Bajrang Dal and he is out on bail. And, if the court convicts him, then the VHP will think about him.”
On being told that he was already convicted by the court and was awarded a 14-year prison term, he replied, “He is on bail and trying to protect his religion which is his right.”
Requesting anonymity, an RSS activist said, “Several letters have been sent to the senior office bearers of the RSS against Sushil Sudele and his gang with proofs in the past demonstrating that he was running an extortion racket in Bhopal in the garb of religion using Bajrang Dal, but in vain.”
Kashif Kakvi is a Delhi-based journalist who reports on Madhya Pradesh. He tweets @KashifKakvi.