2 missing men surface in Phoolan mystery
Sher Singh Rana: Drove Phoolan to Parliament on Wednesday and surfaced on Friday to claim he had killed her to avenge the Behmai massacre Uma Kashyap: Together with her husband Vijay Kumar, she was present in Phoolan Devi's house when she was murdered. Now under interrogation Pankaj Kalra: A close friend of Rana's, missing since the day before the murder Shekhar Panwar: Another Rana associate. Also missing.
ROORKEE, JULY 28: AS Sher Singh Rana, the man who coolly confessed to killing Phoolan Devi, begins answering the Delhi Police's questions today, here in his hometown, two of his close friends have joined the cast of characters in the murder mystery. And both are missing.
One of them is called Pankaj-Pankaj Kalra. Until this morning, Pankaj and Rana were the same person but now it transpires that so close were the two that Rana used his friend Pankaj Kalra's name many a time. Ask Pankaj's brother Bhushan. ''They were very close friends,'' he says. ''Sher Singh even bought a liquor vend in Pankaj's name. He probably introduced himself to Phoolan Devi as Pankaj to hide the fact he was a Rana (a Thakur). Otherwise, he would have never been accepted.''
Pankaj has not been heard from since Thursday. The day before, just minutes after Phoolan Devi was shot dead, he received a phone call that prompted him to shut his father's Old Tehsil shop, drop off the key at a neighbour's and leave the city. ''He called from Meerut the next day. We haven't heard from him since'', says Bhushan.
Pankaj is not the only one of Rana's inner circle to have gone underground. Shekhar Panwar, another Rana associate, too, has been missing since Tuesday. ''Sher Singh and my son were very friendly. Shekhar was fond of driving and Sher Singh often took him out of Roorkee, so that he could drive on the highway,'' says Shekar's mother Sushila. ''Around 2 pm on Tuesday, he left in a hurry, leaving behind a note saying he was going to his sister's in Delhi. He never reached her place.''
Shekhar, a post-graduate student, has not been in touch with his family since then. Interestingly, neither Pankaj nor Shekhar were known to harbour political ambitions; their involvement is attributed to their desire for a piece of the action before they fell back on their day jobs.
Yet another Rana associate, Samajwadi Mahila Morcha chief Uma Kashyap is being interrogated by the police in connection with the murder. If Pankaj and Shekhar were Rana's friends, there is little doubt that Kashyap and Rana used each other to further their individual political ends.
Eager for a toehold in politics, Rana exploited Kashyap's closeness to Phoolan Devi, notwithstanding his pride in his Thakur blood. Kashyap, on the other hand, is said to have made full use of his deep pockets to fuel her own ambitions.
Kashyap's in-laws were resentful of her involvement with politics, an addiction she found difficult to sustain with her husband's salary of Rs 3,200 as a civic tubewell operator. ''My husband threw her and my son out of the house after her political ambitions became obvious,'' says her mother-in-law Savitri Kashyap.
''But on the night of July 24 - just hours before she left for Delhi - she did a very strange thing. She dropped in for a visit, something she hadn't done for almost seven years. We were shocked to see her but she was supremely collected. She told us she was going to meet Phoolan Devi for Teej. That was strange too - she never told us her plans.''
Kashyap and Rana together raised Rs 10 lakh to set up a petrol pump, which they were trying to get sanctioned through Phoolan Devi's MP quota,'' say sources. ''She often made such promises to the youth, but they seldom came to fruition. In fact, Kashyap even registered a police case against a youth who got violent when he did not get a posting he desired even after paying her Rs 15,000.''
Says Roorkee DSP Ajay Joshi, ''It's plausible some disgruntled element was involved in the murder. But this has to be investigated first.''