The arrest of a Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) leader and questioning of a kin of another party leader in connection with the bone-chilling murder of an advocate couple in Telangana has given political overtones to the gruesome killings. The manner in which the couple was hacked to death in broad daylight and in full public view has not only shocked the state but made the High Court, where the victims were practising, to take serious note of the ghastly crime and direct the state government to submit a status report.
The state also witnessed protests by lawyers over the brutal double murder as they boycotted the courts and hit the streets demanding that the government bring the guilty to book and ensure stringent punishment.
The alleged involvement of some TRS leaders in the murder has triggered an attack by the opposition parties on the TRS government. They termed it as murder by the government and questioned the silence of Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao. The opposition leaders wondered why the Chief Minister has not even condemned the double murder.
On February 17, when TRS leaders and cadres across the state were busy celebrating the birthday of KCR, a horrific crime rocked the state. Gattu Vamana Rao and his wife Nagamani who were returning in a car to Hyderabad after appearing for a case in a local court at Manthani, was waylaid and hacked to death near Kalwacherla in Peddapalli district.
Videos which went viral on social media show Vamana Rao (53) and Nagamani (50) being repeatedly stabbed by two persons on the road as passersby watched in horror.
Before succumbing to his injuries, Rao spelled out the name of one Kunta Srinivas, chief of the ruling party's Manthani mandal unit.
The killings sparked an outrage by lawyers, who boycotted the courts across the state and took to streets, demanding immediate arrest and stringent punishment of the culprits.
The High Court took suo moto cognizance and directed the government to conduct a thorough probe and submit status report.
A division bench comprising Chief Justice Hima Kohli and Justice B. Vijaysen Reddy remarked that 'the incident has shaken us all from our stupor'.
"The entire State apart from the legal community is looking up to the government to ensure a proper working of the rule of law. We are all governed by the law and nobody can take law into their own hands," Chief Justice Kohli said.
The court made it clear that it does not want to hear about lapses on part of the investigators. It referred to viral videos being circulated about the dying declaration of Rao who spelled out the name of the killer before succumbing to his injuries.
Police swung into action to arrest three accused including the main accused Kunta Srinivas the same day. Hours before the announcement of arrests, TRS suspended Srinivas from the party.
However, contrary to claim by the family of the victims that the murder was committed at the instance of some top political leaders, the police stated that some dispute between Vamana Rao and Srinivas over land and management of a temple in their native village led to the murder.
Srinivas and his associate S. Chiranjeevi, who hacked the couple to death, were picked up near Wankidi in Maharashtra while the third accused Akkapaka Kumar was held in Manthani.
While Kumar kept tab on Rao's movements in Srinivas' car, the prime accused and Chiranjeevi in another car lay in wait near Kalvacherla village at a spot where all vehicles had to slow down due to road repair work. As soon as advocate couple's car reached there, Chiranjeevi rammed SUV from a side. Srinivas dragged Rao out and started attacking him with a sickle. Chiranjeevi attacked Nagamani, who was sitting on rear seat, with the sickle.
Srinivas and Chiranjeevi then inflicted multiple injuries on Rao who was lying on the road even as passers-by watched in horror.
The duo then fled the spot and drove to Sundilla barrage where they threw sickles into the water, changed their blood stained clothes and headed towards Maharashtra.
Police claimed that Srinivas bore a grudge against Vamana Rao for filing some court cases again him and hence he planned and carried out the murder. The families of the victims were not convinced.
The case took a new turn when police on February 19 picked up for questioning a close relative of former TRS MLA and Peddapalli Zilla Parishad chairman Putta Madhu.
Tulisegari Srinivas alias Bittu Srinu, nephew of Putta Madhu, had allegedly provided his car and sickles to Kunta Srinivas to carry out the murder.
The alleged involvement of Bittu Srinu indicated that the motive for murder could be beyond the disputes between the advocate and Srinivas in their village.
Bittu Srinu had reportedly brought sickles from a fruit shop owned by another public representative. The new twist in the case triggered fresh speculations about the motives and the politically influential persons who could be behind the double murder.
A former local public representative Enumala Satish came out publicly to reveal that in 2018 he had filed a disproportionate assets case against Putta Madhu when the latter was the MLA and Vaman Rao and his wife had argued the case on his behalf.
Satish alleged that Kunta Srinivas and Bittu Srinu threatened him to withdraw the case and when he refused, they spoke about hiring contract killers to eliminate him. He claimed that an audio of Kunta Srinivas in this regard had also surfaced. Though he had lodged a complaint with the police but no action was taken. He said they had identified him and three others for the killing and finally they killed Vamana Rao. Satish said that of the two others one was booked under Preventive Detention Act and the other was lured into the party. Satish said that he still faces threat to his life.
As the name of Putta Madhu surfaced, the TRS leader dismissed all the allegations. He claimed that a section of pro-Congress media was dragging him in the case.
Putta Madhu claimed that though he has been in Manthani since the day when murder took place, some newspapers and channels carried false news that he has disappeared. "I have not run away. I am very much in Manthani," he said.
He also denied that he sought appointment with the Chief Minister and K.T. Rama Rao and they refused to give him an audience.
While police are continuing their probe into the double murder, the opposition parties are going all out to attack the ruling party.
Congress leader and Manthani MLA D. Sridhar Babu, who had defeated Putta Madhu in 2018 elections, sought an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).
He said since there are allegations against TRS leaders, only a probe by the central agency could bring out the truth.
BJP's state chief Bandi Sanjay termed it a murder by government. He wanted to know why the Chief Minister has not opened his mouth to condemn the murder. He alleged that goondas and rowdies are calling the shots in the state.
The opposition will be looking to further step up their attacks on the TRS government in view of next month's elections to two seats of Legislative Council and ensuing by-polls to Nagarjuna Sagar Assembly seat and few urban local bodies.
"TRS was quick in disowning those who were allegedly involved in the double-murder, and unless the incumbent regime commits any glaring errors in the investigation, KCR can emerge unscathed from the crisis," said political analyst P. Raghavendra Reddy.
"Opposition will surely try to turn these murders into a political controversy to target the ruling party. But a well nuanced approach to investigation and stern messaging from KCR should help TRS counter the crisis," he added.