Hathras stampede: Key accused, 2 others held; cops probe 'political' link to funding of godman's events; Akhilesh, Mayawati slam Yogi govt

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Noida, Jul 6 (PTI) Devprakash Madhukar, the main accused in Hathras stampede, was arrested from Delhi by Uttar Pradesh Police which claimed he was the main organiser-fundraiser for the July 2 'satsang' and suspected that self-styled godman Bhole Baba's events were "funded" by a political party.

Claiming that some political parties had recently contacted Madhukar, the police said political connections and money trail would be probed and "strictest possible" action would be taken if any party is found involved in the activities.

"Madhukar was the main organiser of the satsang programme in Fulrai village on July 2 and the permission for this programme was taken by him. Thus, two roles of Madhukar have come to light -- the main organiser and fundraiser," Hathras Superintendent of Police Nipun Agarwal said at a press conference.

Madhukar is the only accused named in the FIR lodged at Sikandra Rao police station on July 2 after the stampede, and Agarwal said the investigation has revealed that some political parties had contacted him some time back.

"A detailed investigation is being conducted regarding the collection of funds to see if such programmes and other resources are being funded by any political party.

"From the investigation so far, it appears that some political party is connected with them for its political and personal interests," Agarwal said.

"All the bank accounts, movable and immovable properties, money trail, related to the accused Devprakash Madhukar are being investigated, in which assistance will be taken from other agencies as per the need," he added.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party supremo Mayawati, both former chief ministers, hit out at the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government over the handling of the case.

Yadav alleged that "to hide its failure" in the Hathras incident, the UP government "wants to shirk responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of people by making minor arrests".

He also accused the government and administration of "needlessly arresting people, who were away from the original venue" with a specific motive and is preparing to hold them guilty after the arrest.

"These arrests are a conspiracy in themselves," he said on X, demanding an immediate judicial inquiry into the case.

BSP chief Mayawati demanded strict action against Bhole Baba and others for the stampede. In a post on X, she urged the poor, Dalit and the oppressed, not to be "misled by preachers like Bhole Baba".

"Action is also necessary against other such babas. The government should not be lenient due to political interests in this matter, so that no more people lose their lives in the future," Mayawati said.

Asked if the police would question the preacher after arresting Madhukar, Hathras Superintendent of Police Agarwal said, "Action would be taken on the basis of further investigation" in the case.

Carrying a Rs 1 lakh bounty, Madhukar, 42, was arrested late Friday from Delhi's Najafgarh area by a Special Operations Group of Hathras police, while two more suspects -- Ramprakash Shakya (61) and Sanju Yadav (33) -- were held locally on Saturday over the episode that left 121 people dead, according to the police.

Madhukar and Yadav were later produced before a local magistrate who remanded them in judicial custody for 14 days, while Yadav would be produced in the court on Sunday, an official said. The police had sought their custody for questioning.

So far, nine people, including two women and three senior citizens, have been arrested in the case, in which "several unidentified sevadars (volunteers)" of the satsang are mentioned as accused. The 'godman' is not an accused in the case.

The Hathras SP said Madhukar worked as a fundraiser for events of the self-styled godman Surajpal alias Narayan Sakar Hari alias Bhole Baba and collected donations.

"His financial transactions and money trails are being looked into, and call detail records are also being checked," Agarwal added.

However, Madhukar's lawyer A P Singh claimed that the 'mukhya sevadar' (chief organiser) of the satsang, where the stampede occurred, had himself surrendered to the police in Delhi, where he had come for medical treatment, contradicting the police's claim of having nabbed him on their own.

On Saturday, he told PTI Video that while organisers of the event are being arrested, there was also need to nab "15-16 unidentified, drunk anti-social elements in half pants" who he claimed triggered the stampede.

Singh also questioned the swift issuance of a non-bailable warrant against Madhukar and the declaration of bounty on his arrest, but maintained he has faith in the judicial process and the investigation teams.

Meanwhile, the judicial team formed to probe the matter reached Hathras on Saturday afternoon and visited the incident site, among other places. Justice (retired) Brajesh Kumar Srivastava told reporters that the judicial panel's report is mandated to submit its report within two months.

Around 2.15 pm on Saturday, Madhukar was brought by the police to the Bagla Combined District Hospital in Hathras for a medical examination amid heavy security deployment in and around the government hospital.

The SP said after preliminary interrogation, accused Madhukar said he had been working on contract as a junior engineer in MNREGA in Etah district since 2010. He has been associated with Surajpal's organisation for years and organises programmes, collecting funds for it.

Agarwal said the accused and the sevadars/organising committee members working under his direction were "fully responsible" for the barricading, entrance gate, exit gate, seating arrangements, parking and other facilities around the pandal of the satsang.

"Madhukar and other sevadars prevented the police administration from any kind of interference inside the event venue. At the event venue, his sevadars were looking after all the arrangements in the form of commandos in different costumes," he said.

"No person was allowed to do videography or photography at the venue. Thus, the arrangements were not done properly and the traffic system etc was affected by violating many conditions mentioned in the permission letter issued by the administration," the SP said.

After the stampede, an FIR was lodged in the matter on July 2 under Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita (BNS) sections 105 (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 110 (attempt to commit culpable homicide), 126 (2) (wrongful restraint), 223 (disobedience to order duly promulgated by the public servant) and 238 (causing disappearance of evidence).

On July 3, the Uttar Pradesh government formed a three-member judicial commission headed by a retired high court judge to probe the tragedy and to look into the possibility of a conspiracy behind the stampede.

Simultaneously, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) headed by Additional Director General of Police (Agra Zone) Anupam Kulshreshtha is also filing a detailed report on the episode, to be submitted to the UP government.

Kulshreshtha on Friday told PTI that the conspiracy angle in the probe has not been ruled out even as the evidence and statements gathered so far suggest culpability on the part of the event organisers. PTI KIS RT RT