The Supreme Court is presently hearing two petitions seeking a probe into the mysterious death of the judge BH Loya. At the time of his death, Loya was presiding over the trial in the Sohrabuddin encounter case, in which Amit Shah, now the president of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, was the prime accused. The two petitions were filed, respectively, by Tehseen Poonawalla, who claims to be a “political trendsetter” on his Twitter profile, and Bandhuraj Sambhaji Lone, who has been referred to in the media as a journalist from Maharashtra. The backgrounds of the petitioners, and the manner in which the petitions have been listed and heard since they were clubbed together on 12 January, merit close scrutiny.
While the media has identified Poonawalla as a Congress leader and Lone as a journalist, these labels appear to be of questionable validity. The leaders of the Congress have been forthrightly clear that the party has nothing to do with Poonawala’s petition. “The Congress party has not filed this petition,” Kapil Sibal, the party leader and Supreme Court lawyer, told me. “I was not consulted and I have nothing to do with it.” Lone did have a career as a journalist, but several of his former editors and colleagues told me that he was no longer working as one, and that he was informally attached to the public-relations office of Ashish Shelar, the head of BJP’s Mumbai unit. “He is one of those journalists who switch over to the personal staff of politicians,” one of Lone’s former editors, who requested not to be identified, told me. Lone, when contacted, denied this.
I spoke to three of Lone’s former editors and two of his colleagues, most of whom did not want to be identified. They helped piece together some of the history of the man. Lone worked for around a decade as a reporter for Mahanagar, a Marathi daily, before moving to another daily, Loksatta, where he was given the prestigious assignment of covering the Bombay Municipal Corporation. A former editor and a former colleague of his said that Lone liked to wax eloquent about the ideas of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Jotirao Phule and BR Ambedkar. “He fancied himself a revolutionary,” his former colleague said. “But it was mostly just talk.”
By around 2010, according to his former editors and colleagues, Lone was out of work, with no money and no prospect of a job. “For a long time, Lone did not have enough money to buy a beer at the Press Club,” the former colleague said. “I don’t even think he was in Mumbai for a couple of years.” One day in 2015, the former colleague recalled, he spotted Lone sitting in the lobby of Hotel Parle International, a three-star establishment close to the airport. “I went to him and asked what he was doing there. He said that he was waiting for someone.” While the two were catching up, Parag Alavani, a BJP member and serving MLA of the locality approached them. “Are you waiting for him?” the former colleague said he asked Lone. “Yes,” Lone replied. Since then, according to his former colleagues and editors, Lone himself has been claiming to work for Shelar.
“I have seen many journalists who switch over to the other side,” the former colleague said. “But Bandhuraj is a person who worked with the newspaper of the Peasants and Workers Party”—the daily Krushival, where Lone worked after Loksatta, is run by the PWP, a Marxist political party in Maharashtra. “I mean, even his name, Bandhuraj, is an adopted revolutionary name. It means comrade. And here he was, working with the BJP MLA for this job or that.”