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Court convicts 4 for L N Mishra’s murder

Nearly 40 years after the then Railway Minister Lalit Narayan Mishra was killed in a blast in Bihar’s Samastipur station, a Delhi court on Monday convicted three Ananda Margas and an advocate for conspiring and murdering him and two others.

Those held guilty of murder in the run up to the Emergency in 1975 are Santoshananda Avadhuta, 75, Sudevananda Avadhuta, 79, and Gopalji, 73, (Ananda Margas) and 66-year-old advocate Ranjan Dwivedi, who was on bail and has been practicing in different courts in the national capital.

They were convicted for the offences under various provisions of the Indian Penal Code including, sections 302 (murder), 326 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapon or means), 324 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy). They were also held guilty for possessing hand grenades under the Explosive Substances Act.

Ananda Marga group claims to be a global, spiritual and social service organisation, which was banned for less than two years after Mishra’s assassination.

District Judge Vinod Goel, who was scheduled to pass the verdict at 2 pm, pronounced the judgment at 3.15 pm, saying “all four accused are convicted for the murder of L N Mishra”.

“Vide separate detailed judgement, accused Ranjan Dwivedi, Santoshananda Avadhuta, Sudevananda Avadhuta and Gopalji are convicted for offences under sections 120-B, 302, 326, 324, 34 (common intention) of the IPC,” the judge said while fixing December 15 for hearing arguments on quantum of sentence in the case, which will range from life imprisonment to death penalty.

The verdict was pronounced in a jam-packed room in the presence of the grand children of Mishra and relatives of convicts including the wife of Ranjan Dwivedi and daughter of Gopalji. Other two convicts, Santoshananda and Sudevananda, were surrounded by members of Ananda Margas.

After pronouncing the verdict, the judge ordered that the convicts be taken into custody and they were later sent to jail. Sudevananda was produced in the court from jail as he was already in custody in relation with the 1975 attempt to murder case of then Chief Justice of India A N Ray.

While Santoshananda, Sudevananda and Gopalji were granted bail by the Supreme Court in April 1986, Ranjan Dwivedi was released on bail in 1978.

The blast, which had occurred on January 2, 1975, had led to Mishra’s death on the next day and also left 25 injured, including his brother, Jagannath Mishra who later became the Chief Minister of Bihar.

Apart from L N Mishra, others who died in the blasts were Surya Narayan Jha and Ram Kishore Prasad Singh.

Though the delayed decision in the case, which saw over 20 judges dealing with it, resulted in the conviction, one of the grandsons of Mishra, Vaibhav , expressed disappointment over the proceedings going on for so many years.

“It took a lot of time in deciding the case. This is the biggest disappointment. No case should go on too long,” 26-year-old Vaibhav said.

On the other side, Dwivedi the youngest of the four at 24 years, put up a brave face.

“We have also become strong at this moment of distress,” said Dwivedi, whose family is settled in the United States.

On the other side, Dwivedi who as a 24-year-old was the youngest of the four, tried to put up a brave face.

“We have also become strong at this moment of distress,” said Dwivedi, whose family is settled in the United States.

Two other convicts- Sudevananda and Gopalji refused to comment on the outcome of the case but the third one, Santoshananda said the case was a “political conspiracy” and they were its victims.

“Our fight will go on. This judgment is not based on law and facts. We have been victims of political conspiracy and this will be exposed in higher courts,” he said.

Special public prosecutor N K Sharma, who has been associated with the case for the last 11 years, said the allegation of delay on the part of prosecution was incorrect.

“The pendency was due to the reason that the case was challenged in superior courts several times. Prosecution is not at fault for the delay in the case and even the Supreme Court has accepted this,” he said.

Advocates Firoz Ahmed and R S Sharma, appearing for convicts Santoshananda and Ranjan Dwivedi, said the outcome of the verdict was “unfortunate” and “unexpected” and they will challenge the judgment in the superior court.

“The outcome was unfortunate. We had not expected this and on seeing the facts of the case, we hope that everybody will be acquitted in the superior court.

“CBI has been dragging the case. It has been delaying the case since inception. We will appeal against the judgement,” Ahmed, who has been associated with the case for last 15 years, said.

The case was first handled by the Bihar Police and after few days it was handed over to the State CB-CID branch and the court proceedings were held at Samastipur. It was later transferred to the CBI which on November 1, 1977 filed a charge sheet in a special court at Patna.

The case was shifted to Delhi on the directions of the Supreme Court on December 17, 1979 as first case in the country to have been transferred outside the state for fear of destruction of evidence.

A total of 213 witnesses were examined in the case which included 161 from prosecution’s side, 43 from accused’ side and nine were called for their testimony as court witnesses and 6000-page long evidence was recorded in the case.

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