In the first incident of post-poll violence in Uttar Pradesh, a close aide of newly-elected Amethi MP Smriti Irani was shot dead by two unidentified men, with police lodging an FIR against five persons and not ruling out the possibility of it being a 'political murder'.
Bharatiya Janata Party MP Smriti Irani asked party workers to exercise restraint, even as she targeted Congress president Rahul Gandhi over his 'take-care-of-Amethi-with-love' remark, saying she had got the message 'loud and clear'.
Surendra Singh, 50, a former head of Baraulia village, around 25 km from the Amethi district headquarters, was shot at around 11.30 pm on Saturday. Singh was referred to a Lucknow hospital, but succumbed during treatment, Additional Superintendent of Police Daya Ram said.
Director General of Police Om Prakash Singh said seven people were taken into custody, adding that they were being interrogated.
"We have come to know about an old enmity. We are also trying to find out if there was any political enmity. The initial investigation has thrown up some vital clues," he told reporters in Lucknow.
"UP police teams are conducting a very intensive investigation. We have also got important evidence through electronic surveillance," the DGP said, adding that he was hopeful that the case would be solved 'in the next 12 hours'.
Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had directed the DGP to take effective action and report back to him, a senior official said, adding that the inspector general in Lucknow was sent to monitor the situation.
"An FIR has been registered against five persons under sections 302 (punishment for murder) and 120B (punishment of criminal conspiracy) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on the complaint of Narendra Singh, brother of Surendra Singh," Daya Ram said.
In the first information report lodged at the Jamo police station in Amethi, the complainant said, "On the intervening night of May 25-26, my younger brother Surendra Singh was sleeping in the verandah of the house, along with nephews Abhay and Anurag, when we heard the sound of gunshots.
"As we woke up, we saw Wasim, his brother Nasim and Golu running away. Across the road, we saw Ramchandra. In this case, there is also a conspiracy of Dharamnath Gupta (related to the panchayat polls).
"Ramchandra was involved in a scuffle with one of my nephews during the Lok Sabha polls, due to which the incident took place."
When contacted, Jamo Station House Officer Rajeev Singh said, "Wasim, Nasim Golu and Ramchandra have been booked under section 302, IPC. Dharamnath Gupta has been booked for conspiracy charges. Investigations are going on."
Irani, who was in Delhi, flew down to Lucknow en route to Amethi, where she met Singh's family members and consoled them.
The BJP leader and state minister Mohsin Raza were present when Singh's last rites were performed. A large number of people was also present on the occasion.
Both Irani and Raza were seen carrying Singh's body amidst chanting of slogans by villagers.
"My request to all party workers is that we should exercise restraint," Irani told reporters in Lucknow.
She said Singh was killed so that Amethi could be 'terrorised, disintegrated and bowed down'.
"On (May) 23, I was given a message that take care of Amethi with love. To the person, who gave me the message, I would like to say that I have received the message loud and clear," she said, referring to Gandhi's remarks made on the counting day.
In the just-concluded Lok Sabha polls, Irani defeated the Congress president from Amethi, a Gandhi family bastion.
"As per the information received, Singh was attacked in his sleep. This is a very heinous and disgusting incident," Raza, the minister in-charge of Amethi district, said.
"I think some pro-Congress anti-social elements did not like our celebration following the BJP's win from Amethi. They were upset," Abhay Singh, the deceased's son, told reporters.
The women family members of the slain former village head were inconsolable.
"He (Singh) never had any enmity with anyone, despite being a village head for years," a teary-eyed elderly woman told reporters, adding, "As the polls were over, enemies surfaced. From where they came, who came, no one knows."
Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya expressed grief over Singh's death.
"The death of a party worker is indeed very sad and unfortunate. He was a hard worker. Even if his killers are hiding below the ground, they will be caught. The entire Amethi is sad over the incident," he said.
Newly-elected Allahabad MP Rita Bahuguna Joshi said there was no place for violence in a democracy and demanded strict action against Singh's killers.
Baraulia was in the news during the poll campaign after Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra accused Irani of distributing shoes to the villagers in order to insult Rahul Gandhi.
"Considering the fact that the Congress is disappointed, especially after the defeat of its party president in Amethi, a high-level probe should be ordered and the guilty should be punished," Rajesh Agrahari, the BJP convenor for the Amethi constituency, told PTI.
"Surendra Singh was a popular and active grassroots-level leader, and a close aide of MP Smriti Irani. He and other party leaders were actively involved in the distribution of shoes," he added.