As Photos Emerge of Udaipur Killer’s Links to BJP Leaders, Party Moves to Damage Control Mode

Well before the savage killing of Kanhaiyalal, BJP functionaries had posted photos of themselves and others with Riyaz Attari, describing the man as a “dedicated worker of BJP”. Now the claim being put out is that Attari was trying to “infiltrate” the party.

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New Delhi: Riyaz Attari, the man who filmed himself brutally murdering a tailor in Udaipur named Kanhaiyal this week to avenge an alleged insult to the Prophet, was described by a local Bharatiya Janata Party and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader as a “dedicated worker of the BJP” in a Facebook post less than two years ago.

Irshad Chainwala and Mohammad Tahir are influential members of the Rajasthan State BJP Minority Morcha and the RSS-promoted Muslim Rashtriya Manch and their Facebook timelines have photographs of Attari posing next to the BJP’s leader in the Rajasthan assembly Gulab Chand Kataria (see above) and senior Udaipur BJP leader Ravindra Shrimali (see below). Other posts show Attari attending BJP events wearing a party scarf and being garlanded by Chainwala and Tahir.

In some of these posts by the two BJP men, Attari, who is easily recognisable, has also been identified by name and described as an activist of the party.

News of the connection between the killer – who has now been charged with terrorist offences by the National Investigation Agency and the Rajasthan Police, along with his accomplice Ghouse Mohammad – was broken by India Today on Friday evening with a headline claiming that the Udaipur duo “may have plotted to infiltrate Rajasthan BJP”.

However, that claim of attempted “infiltration” – which is not sourced to any BJP leader or security official – appears to be the TV channel’s own spin and is belied by the BJP functionaries’ own Facebook posts describing Attari as a party worker. Ordinarily, evidence of such connections with killers ends up damaging the reputation of the politician and party involved.  But a whole day after the India Today story, there seems to be little evidence of any media appetite for a follow up.

India Today said that Chainwala admitted knowing Attari and being photographed with him. He said that Attari used to attend BJP events but usually came on his own and was “uninvited”. But he also added, according to the TV channel,  that he “got into BJP events” through Mohammad Tahir, “whom [he] described as a party worker.” Sources in Udaipur told The Wire that Tahir is no ordinary worker, given his proximity to Kataria.

Chainwala attempted to distance Attari from his party by claiming, according to India Today, that though “he said he wanted to work with the party…  privately, Riyaz was a harsh critic of the BJP… he would oppose the party bitterly in private conversations with friends.”

Curiously, the BJP leader was not confronted with the claim – made in a Faceboook post by fellow member of Udaipur BJP minority cell Mohammad Tahir on November 28, 2019 – that Attari was a “karyakarta”, or activist, of the BJP.

Screenshot of Facebook post of Mohammad Tahir, November 28, 2019.

Another of Tahir’s posts shows Attari with Ravindra Shreemali, head of the BJP in Udaipur. Tahir identifies Attari by name.

Screenshot of Mohammad Tahir’s Facebook post of February 3, 2019, shows Riyaz Attari at the far left and Irshad Chainwala felicitating Ravindra Shreemali, head of the BJP in Udaipur.

The Wire spoke to Shreemali, who denied meeting Attari or knowing him. He said it is hard to keep track of people in a crowd. He denied Attari had any connection to the BJP but added, “Of course, I am ready to face any investigation.”

Kataria was unavailable when The Wire tried to reach him but he was quoted  by News24 as saying he had no connection to Riyaz Attari. “Anyone can come to a public programme.”

In one photograph from November 2018, posted on Chainwala’s Facebook page, Attari can seen standing amongst a group of BJP supporters with Chainwala and Tahir. Attari is the man sixth from the left, wearing a BJP scarf. 

Screenshot from November 2018 of a post on Irshad Chainwala’s Facebook page.

A scan of Tahir and Irshad’s social media shows their strong connection with influential leaders of the BJP and RSS. There are several photos of Irshad and Tahir with Kataria, RSS leader Indresh Kumar and other leaders of the Rajasthan BJP. 

Tahir and Riyaz Attari have posted meme pictures together and featured in several photos. In the pictures posted above, he and Chainwala can be seen garlanding Riyaz, who had returned from his Umra Pilgrimage from Saudi Arabia in 2019.

Neither Chainwala nor Tahir were available for comment at the time of filing this story.

Apart from Tahir and Irshad, The Wire found that two men, Rohil Pathan and Asalam Hussain, had commented on almost every picture in which Riyaz featured. We found that the two were also linked to the BJP and the Muslim Rashtriya Manch. 

NIA vs Rajasthan Police on terror charge

Further complicating what had started out as a simple story of two men – followers of the Barelvi sect, one of whom had visited the Dawat-e-Islami markaz in Karachi in 2014 – who had become radicalised to such an extent that they could commit murder on the pretext of opposing blasphemy is the tussle between the Rajasthan Police and the NIA on the terrorist nature of the offence.

Rajasthan Police press note, July 1, 2022.

On Friday, the Rajasthan Police issued a press note describing as “premature” claims made by unidentified NIA officials in a section of the media that Kanhaiyal’s murder was the product of passion rather than terrorist conspiracy.