Kanhaiya Lal Sahu’s brutal murder haunts Udaipur’s political stage in poll season


Jasoda Teli wife of Kanhaiya Lal, with her sons Yash and Tarun during an interview, ahead of Assembly elections, at her residence, Udaipur district in Rajasthan.
| Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Rajasthan’s election rhetoric has taken a communal turn, with both major political parties in the State — the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP — evoking the brutal hacking of 50-year-old tailor Kanhaiya Lal Sahu in Udaipur in June 2022. Udaipur’s trading community says the murder could have been averted if the State had better law and order. The victim’s bereaved family still awaits justice; till then, they simply want to be left alone.

Sahu was killed after he shared a social media post supporting BJP leader Nupur Sharma, who had made offensive remarks against the Prophet Muhammed in a television debate earlier in May that year. The accused, Riyaz Attari and Gaus Mohammed, filmed themselves killing the tailor and posted the video on social media, sparking outrage across the country. In another video, showing two daggers used for beheading, they claimed responsibility for the crime, and were later arrested from the neighbouring Rajsamand district; a case is now under trial in court.

Exchanging barbs

Referring to Sahu’s murder in his public address in Udaipur on November 9, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that the Congress was “sympathetic to terrorists” and accused the Rajasthan government of pursuing a policy of appeasement that helped terrorists.

The next day, senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh, who was visiting Udaipur, counterattacked by sharing pictures of the BJP leaders with the accused.

Accusing the BJP of whipping up communal tensions in Rajasthan ahead of the Assembly election, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has claimed that Sahu had been killed by BJP workers who had been released from police detention under pressure a few days before the murder took place last June.

Progress in the case was not known since the National Investigation Agency had taken over from the State police, the CM said. “Had the Special Operations Group of the Rajasthan police handled the case, the probe would have reached a logical conclusion by now,” he said. Mr. Gehlot alleged that the pace of investigation had been “purposefully kept slow”, as the BJP intended to turn the case into an election issue to polarise voters along communal lines.

Anger and fear among traders

In Hathipole Baazar, one of Udaipur’s busiest markets, which was home to Sahu’s tailor shop for over two decades, the businessmen are angry with the Congress.

“Congress thinks that giving compensation to his [Sahu’s] family is enough. It is not. They need justice,” said Lokesh Parmar, who runs a garment store in the market.

Sanjay Wadhwani, owner of the Royal Arts emporium in the same area said that the trading community feared such security breaches, in the wake of the murder. “Anyone can come and kill you in broad daylight. This is scary and a point to ponder,” he said.

Communalism vs development

Udaipur district is a BJP stronghold, with the party having won six of the eight Assembly seats in 2018. Tarachand Jain, the BJP candidate for the Udaipur seat, has been evoking Sahu’s murder on-and-off during his campaign.

The Congress candidate Gaurav Vallabh, however, is avoiding any mention of the murder in his door-to-door canvassing. According to him, the State has done all that was needed in the case. “People want peace and development. It’s only the BJP that is playing up the issue to divide votes,” Mr. Vallabh told The Hindu, adding that he plans to meet Sahu’s family before polling day.

Waiting for justice

The tailor’s family received a compensation of ₹50 lakh from the State, as well as government jobs for both of Sahu’s sons; they say that Mr. Gehlot has done a lot for them, but has yet to deliver justice, adding that the Congress has failed to control crime in the State.

At his two-storey home in the city’s Govardhan Vilas area, the victim’s son, Yash Sahu, sits barefoot. His shoulder-length hair has been tied to accentuate the tika that runs from his forehead to his hairline. He has pledged that until his father’s murderers are given a death sentence, he will neither wear shoes nor get a haircut.

Inside the drawing room on the first floor of the house, a giant LED screen displays video from four cameras placed to view all four directions around the house, which is also permanently guarded by two policemen. A giant picture of Sahu, with a tricolour at the bottom, has been placed on top of the television.

Reliving the tragedy

His widow, Jashoda Sahu, smiles when asked about the security arrangements. “My husband is dead. What will I do with all this security? I don’t say no to it because of my children,” she says.

The family of three, including her younger son Tarun Sahu, say they are fed-up of frequent media visit to their home since the Prime Minister evoked Sahu in a recent political rally. The family says their ordeal is unending, as they are repeatedly forced to recall the gory video of their father’s murder.

“All we want is justice and to be left alone,” says Mr. Yash Sahu.

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