What we know so far about BSP leader Armstrong’s murder in Chennai

At around 7.15 pm on July 5, Armstrong was chatting with his friends, when a group of four unidentified men, armed with machetes and country-made bombs, attacked him from behind.
K Armstrong
K Armstrong
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Two days after the gruesome murder of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) Tamil Nadu president K Armstrong, the police have maintained that the crime was in retaliation for the killing of gangster Arcot Suresh last year. However, the BSP and Dalit activists are contesting this and claiming that a deeper conspiracy was at play in the murder. Responding to allegations that the men caught on CCTV committing the crime and the men who surrendered before the police aren't the same people, the police said that they are not relying only on the CCTV footage from near the crime scene to piece together what happened. 

The investigators also said that they are using mobile triangulation to get clarity on the attackers’ movement and that they’re delving into the alleged feud between Suresh and Armstrong to uncover the full story.

A well-known Ambedkarite Buddhist leader, Armstrong was brutally hacked to death on July 5 by armed assailants on bikes who pretended to be food delivery agents. They were waiting at an eatery near Armstrong’s under-construction home. 

Armstrong had to be rushed to Apollo Hospital on Greemes Road, 10 kilometres away. He was bleeding extensively from grievous wounds and was taken to the emergency room, where the doctors declared him dead on arrival.

Usually, Armstrong is surrounded by at least 10 to 15 persons or more. But on the day he was killed, he was only accompanied by two persons from his apartment in Ayanavaram to the house construction site. 

Armstrong had a licensed gun for his safety and according to his friends, he usually carried a gun with him when he left the home. But on Friday he had left it at home, police sources say. Chennai Commissioner of Police Sandeep Rai Rathore told reporters on July 6, “As per the Model Code of Conduct enforced during elections, everyone with a licensed gun has to deposit their weapon with the police. Armstrong’s gun was handed back to him on June 13.”

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An ambush before the attack

On the day of the attack, Armstrong was visiting the site of his under-construction house, like he had done almost every day since February.  

The site is located on Venugopal Swamy Kovil street in Perambur—a narrow 16 feet lane. Armstrong’s office is only 50 metres away from here and so is the Perambur police station. Armstrong had been visiting the construction site to oversee the building’s progress. It was common knowledge that he spent most of his time here either for party work, to check in on the construction or for the occasional carrom board game with the neighbourhood youth.

Venugopal Swamy Kovil street is also just a 100 metres away from the Perambur barracks and is a densely populated residential area. On the day he was killed, Armstrong was at the construction site as per his usual routine. He arrived at the site around 3:30 pm and spoke with the building contractor for a while.

While workers wrapped up for the day, Armstrong made arrangements over the phone for more cement and brick, his friend Prasad told TNM. 

At around 7.15 pm, Armstrong was chatting with his friends, Veeramani and Balaji, when four unidentified men attacked him from behind. Veeramani and Balaji rushed to his rescue but were assaulted and pushed into a 10-foot-deep pit dug up during the construction work. 

Police sources said that the attackers intended to kill Armstrong and had even come prepared to use country-made bombs to overpower him. “The police teams have seized a machete and a bag containing two country-made bombs,” the source added. 

As Veeramani and Balaji raised an alarm, witnesses saw a group of men flashing machetes running towards the corner of the street. 

What the CCTV footage shows

Police have obtained two sets of CCTV footage which show a person carrying a bag and a machete fleeing on foot. He is followed by men on three bikes, also armed with machetes, escaping from the spot. Armstrong’s friends said that the attack and the escape route had clearly been planned. In another CCTV clip, four men can be seen running down a street. Three of these men appear together first, before the fourth man follows a few seconds later, looking over his shoulder. 

Just hours after the murder, TV channels began flashing news of eight suspects surrendering before the police. Later in the night, the Chennai police announced that eight men, whom they say were the same ones seen in the CCTV footage, had been arrested. At this juncture, police said that Armstrong had been killed in retaliation for the murder of an A+ category (most notorious) history sheeter, Arcot Suresh, in August 2023. According to the police, Suresh’s brother Ponnai Balu and other gang members believed Armstrong had a role in Suresh’s killing. The police sources TNM spoke to said that they believe Suresh considered Armstrong a rival. 

By the time the police made these revelations, anger in the Dalit community against the ruling DMK and the city police was mounting. Armstrong was known widely across the state for his efforts to promote Dr Ambedkar’s Navayana Buddhism. He was also a well-loved leader in north Chennai, where he lived, and his violent murder sparked outrage and protests. Neither the BSP nor those close to Armstrong are convinced by the police’s stance that his murder was a revenge plot orchestrated by gangsters. 

Armstrong’s party workers believe that Arcot Suresh’s brother Ponnai Balu and others are not capable of planning such an elaborate operation. Speaking to TNM, Swikin, advocate and BSP’s Mylapore area secretary, said the police are trying to close the case by recording the arrest of eight people. “We feel there is someone who has provided support to Ponnai Balu and his gang. We have seen many cases in the past where fake perpetrators have surrendered to the police after the incident, and the real perpetrators are never caught. We want the police to investigate the involvement of some powerful people,” he added. 

The BSP and the DMK’s ally in the state, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi (VCK) have plainly stated their mistrust in the Chennai police’s investigation and have demanded that the Central Bureau of Investigation take over the case. The statements of VCK leader Thol Thirumavalavan demanding a probe by a central agency and casting aspersions on the reliability of the state police have left the DMK embarrassed. 

Dalit activists and the BSP alleged that the arrested men were mere ‘scapegoats’. The police, meanwhile, insisted there was no political or caste motive to Armstrong’s murder. 

Opposition leaders, including Edappadi K Palanisamy, K Annamalai, and Anbumani Ramadoss, came down heavily on the state government, asking how badly could the law and order have deteriorated in Tamil Nadu that the state president of a national party could be murdered in the capital city.

What was the motive?

Addressing a press conference on July 6, Sandeep Rathore said, “There are more people we are looking for. Something appears to have transpired when Arcot Suresh was in prison. We are still probing that angle. Earlier, he [Armstrong] was a history sheeter, and then the court closed the cases against him.” He added that Ponnai Balu had seven cases against him as well.

It added to the consternation of Armstrong’s supporters that Rathore pointed to cases against Armstrong, most of them related to cheating cases and scams, even though all the cases had been closed by the courts. The slain leader’s supporters have consistently accused the state government of maligning his reputation to cover up the crime.

Brushing aside the criticism as politically motivated, the police said that they are also probing the angle of Armstrong and Arcot Suresh’s “interests” in the Arudhra Gold scam, in which hundreds of investors lost their money. The scam was to the tune of Rs 2,500 crore, and according to police sources, Armstrong was representing the interests of some investors who lost their money and Arcot Suresh was also involved in getting the money returned to some high-profile clients. When asked about it, the Chennai Police Commissioner neither confirmed nor denied the angle. “We are looking into all possible angles,” he told reporters. Sources in the police, however, said that Suresh and Armstrong were at loggerheads because they both demanded money to be returned to the parties they were helping out and that the police are still investigating to see if there were deeper issues between the two. 

However, the BSP, VCK, Dalit activists, public intellectuals, and close acquaintances of Armstrong have expressed their outrage at the late leader being represented as a criminal and his death the result of a gang war. In a statement, the BSP said that Armstrong’s death was a premeditated political assassination and demanded that it be investigated as such. 

“There is no connection between Armstrong’s murder and the eight arrested men. The real culprits must be caught and the true motive be brought to light,” the statement read. The VCK, despite its alliance with the ruling DMK, has endorsed the statement. 

Latest developments

According to Chennai Additional Commissioner (North) Asra Garg, three more suspects have been detained. A decision on their arrest would be taken after assessing their involvement in the murder, he also said. 

Meanwhile, the eight persons arrested on July 7 were produced before the court and have been remanded in judicial custody until July 18. A Zomato t-shirt, a Zomato bag, three bikes, and seven blood-stained sickles have also been seized from them.

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