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Shivani Bhatnagar Case:

On September 27, 2002, IPS officer Ravi Kant Sharma surrendered before a court in Ambala after being on the run for more than 45 days.

More than three and a half years after the murder of The Indian Express journalist Shivani Bhatnagar in her rented east Delhi flat on January 23, 1999, the prime accused was in custody. Sharma, before his suspension, was the inspector general of prisons.

A British Chevening scholarship recipient and alumni of the prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University, colleagues describe Bhatnagar as persistent and a 'go-getter'.

The murder shocked Delhi and its reverberations almost upset the political applecart of BJP leader Pramod Mahajan, who was accused by Sharma and his wife of 'being close' to the journalist.

It took the police more than three years to make the first arrest in the case -- that of Gurgaon-based restaurant owner Sri Bhagwan. The arrest, on July 23, 2002, would have remained a secret if Bhagwan's family had not filed a habeas corpus.

On August 2, the police picked up another suspect, Pradeep, a computer engineer. A day later Sharma vanished. On August 17, Satya Prakash, the third suspect, was held.

According to the charge sheet, on the fateful day two men posing as acquaintances had entered Bhatnagar's flat with a box of sweets.

The two even had tea, according to the police. With just a camera, a chain and a cellular phone missing, the police ruled out robbery as the motive.

Sri Bhagwan claimed the police planned the murder on Sharma's instructions. The IPS officer decided to eliminate Bhatnagar because she was pressuring him to marry her.

The 45-page charge sheet said that on December 24, 1998, Sharma met co-accused Satya Prakash, Sri Bhagwan, Ved Prakash Sharma and Ved alias Kalu at the Ashoka Hotel in Delhi.

In order to create an alibi, Sharma arranged an official meeting with a senior government official, which never took place, the police said.

Satya Prakash hired Pradeep with the promise to get back his job in the Haryana Urban Development Corporation, besides a remuneration of Rs 300,000, it added.

Also See

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Sharma's bail plea rejected

Complete coverage of the case

On January 13, 1999, Sharma called Bhatnagar and her child to the Ashoka Hotel, so that the other accused could see her. Later they went to her residence in Navkunj Apartments in east Delhi, so that the killer could see the place.

The charge sheet said Bhatnagar had made as many as 50 calls to the officer from her Delhi residence between December 17, 1997, and February 24, 1998.

Sharma even used the mobile phone of one of his daughters to contact Sri Bhagwan, it said.

The charge sheet quoted the deceased's sister Sevanti as saying that the journalist was depressed, dejected and perturbed in the first week of January 1999. Bhatnagar also told her sister that Sharma was avoiding her, the charge sheet said.

Pradeep was paid an advance amount of Rs 10,000; the rest after the murder.

After the crime, Satya Prakash, Sri Bhagwan and Ved Sharma reached Mumbai on January 24 and stayed at Hotel Milan, Santa Cruz, where they accepted Rs 300,000 from Sharma, the charge sheet added.

Charging Pradeep with murder, the charge sheet said there was no second killer.

But the police investigations left much to be desired. The delay in nabbing the accused, the apparent absence of a clear motive in the crime and the lack of transparency in the case raised several questions.

Initially the police trained their guns on her husband, senior journalist Rakesh Bhatnagar. But with no proof, the cops left him alone.

As the investigation progressed there were constant whispers that the cops were dragging their feet on the case due to the involvement of a senior BJP politician.

In fact, in his bail application before the Delhi high court Sharma said he was being 'falsely implicated and made a scapegoat of those who belong to the higher echelons of society and are the real culprits'.

Pramod MahajanBut the police said that Sharma 'confessed' that he was acquainted with Bhatnagar since the days that he had been posted as officer on special duty to then prime minister I K Gujral.

Meanwhile, Madhu Sharma, the IPS officer's wife, in an emotionally charged press conference charged then information technology and parliamentary affairs minister Mahajan of having an 'affair' with Bhatnagar.

She also accused Deputy Prime Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani of being hand in glove with Mahajan in framing her husband. Singling out Mahajan, she said details of phone conversations between Bhatnagar and the BJP leader should be made public.

Sharma, said his wife, was being targeted because he told the police that a politician was involved. The police, she claimed, had expressed their helplessness to Sharma in pursuing that line of inquiry.

She even went to the extent of questioning the paternity of Bhatnagar's child, daring Mahajan to take a DNA test. Mahajan, for his part, said he was willing to undergo any test.

The police, however, dismissed her statement as an 'emotional' outburst. They also gave a new turn to the case, charging Sharma with giving Bhatnagar 'sensitive papers' relating to the St Kitts forgery case.

In an interview to the Hindustan Times after being charged with the murder, Sharma said Mahajan's affair with Bhatnagar was 'common knowledge'.

'Everyone knew, except the Delhi police,' he said. He also claimed that Mahajan knew him 'very well'.

'Shivani Bhatnagar was the BJP's bete noire. I was the most convenient scapegoat as I was the only person known to Shivani who was not a part of Delhi's political establishment. I have been framed by the home ministry to settle scores with rivals within the BJP,' he said.

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