On 26 February, the Delhi Police arrested 25-year-old Sukhwinder Singh and 21-year-old Lakhan Rajput, two Dalit youth from Punjab, claiming that they had conspired to murder Sushil Pandit. Pandit is a campaigner for the repatriation of Kashimiri Pandits and is known to be close to the Bharatiya Janata Party. The Delhi Police later anonymously claimed to the media that Sukhwinder and Lakhan could have been involved with Pakistan’s intelligence agency. However, the first-information report registered by the police and public statements by the deputy commissioner of police who overlooked their arrest shows little to substantiate this claim apart from undisclosed information provided by an anonymous informant.
The Delhi Police claimed that the two individuals were following the instructions of one Prince Kumar—a gangster who has been in Punjab’s Faridkot jail in November. Yet, by the Delhi Police’s own admission, they did not inform or consult the Punjab Police. Sukhwinder and Lakhan’s family told me that the cases foisted against them were false and baseless, and that the duo have no prior criminal record. In Punjab recently a number of Dalit Sikhs have been arrested under terror charges, and after long periods of incarceration the cases against them were dropped due to a complete lack of evidence.
The RK Puram police station in Delhi registered the FIR against Sukhwinder and Lakhan on 26 February. The charges against them include Sections 115 and 120B of Indian Penal Code, which pertain to being party to a criminal conspiracy and abetment of an offence punishable with death or imprisonment for life, as well as offences under the Arms Act of 1959. Several aspects of the FIR clash with the accounts of Sukhwinder and Lakhan’s family. The FIR claims that the Delhi Police were getting information for several days that some inmates in a Punjab jail were hatching a plot to kill Pandit, and that there is a possibility of their links with foreign powers. It claims that “foreign powers” were interested in the murder of Pandit because “he was creating awareness among people in favour of abrogation of Article 370 of the Indian constitution”—which safeguarded Jammu and Kashmir’s limited autonomy. The FIR reads, “Thus he is on target of some people in and out of the country.”
According to the FIR, an informant told the RK Puram police on the evening of 26 February that two youth aiming to murder Pandit would arrive at Venkateshwar Marg, in Sector 3 of RK Puram, at around 8 or 9 pm. “At around 8.40 pm, two youth with bags over their shoulders boarded down from a DTC bus and started walking towards Sector 1, red light,” the FIR states. Raju Kaur, Sukhwinder’s sister, told me that he had left home without any bag that day. The FIR continues, “The informer gestured and confirmed their identity. Following this, the entire staff was alerted, and the youth nabbed.” The FIR notes that the police could not get any private witnesses for the arrest because the sub-inspector “asked a few passers-by to be involved in the activity, but they excused themselves pleading genuine reasons that they did not want to get entangled in police case and left the spot without telling their names and addresses. Nobody could be given a notice due to shortage of time.”
The FIR claims that Sukhwinder and Lakhan had four guns, two of which were country pistols and the other two of foreign make, as well ammunition in their bags. It adds that during their interrogation after the arrest, both of them confessed that they had been hired by Tuti to murder Pandit. They also purportedly told the police that they were searching for a place to hide for the past few days and were roaming around Jawaharlal Nehru University and Kutub Hotel. Raj Kumar, Lakhan’s father, told me that his son had been staying in Delhi for five years now and already had a rented accommodation. It is unclear, then, why Sukhwinder and Lakhan would search for multiple days for a place to stay.