In a shocking turn of events, former Indian lawmaker Atiq Ahmad and his brother Ashraf were assassinated while under police escort in Prayagraj city, Uttar Pradesh. The attack unfolded on live television on Saturday night as the brothers were en route to a hospital for a medical checkup.
Three men, posing as journalists, approached the brothers and fired at them at close range before surrendering to the police. At least one of the assailants chanted “Jai Shri Ram,” a slogan often associated with Hindu nationalists in their campaign against Muslims.
Uttar Pradesh has been governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party since 2017. Since then, over 180 individuals facing criminal charges in the state have died in alleged “police encounters.” Rights groups have raised concerns that these incidents may be extrajudicial killings.
In the wake of Saturday’s attack, authorities imposed a ban on gatherings that hosted more than four people across the state. They also suspended mobile internet access in Prayagraj.
The government ordered a judicial investigation into the incident that is being led by a retired judge.
Police officer Ramit Sharma explained that the three attackers arrived on motorcycles, pretending to be journalists. They did so in order to get close to Atiq and his brother. He said that the entire incident unfolded in a matter of seconds.
Footage of the attack spread rapidly on social media, with local TV channels initially broadcasting the event live as the brothers were being taken to the hospital. The video showed the assailants firing at both brothers, even after they had fallen to the ground.
Atiq Ahmad, 60, was jailed in 2019. At the time, he was convicted of kidnapping a lawyer who had testified against him in a 2005 murder case involving another lawmaker. In February, the same lawyer was also killed. On Thursday, Atiq’s teenage son and another man, both accused of being involved in the lawyer’s murder, were reportedly killed by police in a shootout.
Two weeks prior to his death, Atiq had petitioned the Indian Supreme Court for protection, citing threats to his life from state functionaries in Uttar Pradesh. However, the court declined to intervene and advised his lawyer to utilize the local state court instead.
Atiq Ahmad was a four-time state lawmaker representing Uttar Pradesh’s Phulpur constituency. He faced over 100 criminal cases and was among the first politicians in Uttar Pradesh to be prosecuted under the stringent Gangster Act in the late 1980s.
He was known for his Robin Hood image among primarily Muslim constituents and financially supported many impoverished families. However, Ahmad was also criticized for using his political influence to establish a syndicate involved in real estate and other criminal activities.
Opposition parties have condemned the killings a lapse of security, also accusing the government of fear-based ruling.