While the state echoed with widespread violent protests and arson against the brutal killing of a public works engineer by a ruling Bahujan Samaj Party MLA in Auraiya district about 250 Km from Lucknow in the wee hours on Wednesday, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati sought to give the case an interesting twist.
"Apparently, the murder was a fallout of professional rivalry and underhand deals within the Public Works Department," Mayawati told a press conference in Lucknow on Thursday afternoon.
In a desperate bid to give herself a clean-chit and clear herself of the charge that the engineer lost his life for refusing to concede the MLA's demand for money required to fill the coffers for Mayawati's birthday celebrations on January 15, she also hit out at the opposition for maligning her.
Mayawati clearly focused all her energies towards taking the spotlight away from the widely believed theory that the PWD executive engineer Manoj Kumar Gupta was beaten to death simply because he refused to concede BSP MLA Shekar Tiwari's extortion bid for Rs 50 lakh.
"Preliminary investigations have revealed that the murder was the result of some kind of professional tussle and kickbacks, " she claimed.
"The allegation that my party MLA was indulging in extortion to contribute money for my birthday celebrations was absolutely false, baseless and a part of the opposition slander campaign to malign me and my party," the BSP leader asserted.
Meanwhile, according to the autopsy report, Gupta's body bore 32 injury marks, while one of his arms was fractured. He had been given electric shocks, and his hair had been pulled out in chunks, the report added.
However, in a sharp deviation from Wednesday's stand about entrusting the case to an agency that the victim's family would prefer, Mayawati refused to concede the popular demand for handing over the case to the CBI.
Not only did she go about blaming it all on the opposition, but virtually reprimanded the media for dragging her name into the controversy. "What is the basis of your reports alleging that the MLA was induging in extortion for my birthday." she asked angrily .
She also went about harping, "I do not believe in shielding anyone indulging in any unlawful activity, no matter however high and mighty he might be. We have done so in the past and even in this case, we have booked BSP MLA Shekhar Tiwari under stringent laws and have put him behind bars and I can assure you that he will not be spared under any circumstances."
Meanwhile, a local court in Auraiya has remanded Tiwari to judicial custody until January 7. No effort was made by the state authorities to seek his police remand for further interrogation.
Earlier in the day , hundreds of protesters resorted to stone throwing and arson in Auraiya, where they torched a police outpost and a bus.
Trains were stopped in Allahabad, Etawah, Kanpur and a number of other districts, while roads blocks were staged in Lucknow . Over 1000 protestors were detained by the police across the state.
Among those detained were Shivpal Yadav, acting state president of the Samajwadi Party, and party MP Akhilesh Yadav, who is also SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav's son, who were taken into custody from outside the State Governor's house in Lucknow along with 300 party workers.
Even as the chief minister and her entire administrative machinery has been working overtime to persuade and pressurize the media to believe that the murder had nothing to do with the money collection drive for her birthday on January 15 , she did not hesitate to admit that the day was traditionally observed as "aarthik sahyog diwas".
"We make no bones about observing my birthday as a day for seeking donations from our party supporters , who shell out their savings, with which we sustain our party," asserted Mayawati in an obvious bid to justify her birthday collections.
"Unlike other political parties including the Congress, Samajwadi Party and Bhartiya Janata Party, our Bahujan Samaj Party was not one supported by big industrial or business houses, therefore we have to depend on small contributions made by our supporters," she claimed.
Tiwari and his musclemen had allegedly barged into Gupta's house around 0200 hrs on Wednesday, locked up his wife in the bathroom and thrashed the engineer after stripping him.
Around 0500 hrs, Tiwari carried a severely injured Gupta to the nearest police station and told the police to register a case against the engineer for "indulging in hooliganism".
The police, however, took him to hospital around 0700 hrs where he was declared dead. His two cohorts named in the FIR were yet to be arrested.
"Manoj had been telling his wife that he was under tremendous pressure to shell out a hefty amount for Mayawati's birthday celebrations," The victim's kin told rediff.com.
Every year on Jan 15, the BSP supremo holds a big birthday bash and party leaders at various levels are reportedly directed to make their assigned contributions.
She, however, added: "This time I had issued directions not to involve party MPs and MLAs in the fund collection , that was to be handled only by party functionaries."
Mayawati declared that her next birthday would be celebrated as 'dhikkar diwas' without the usual bash.
"BSP workers will stage rallies at all district headquarters across the state to condemn all political parties which have been making false and wild allegations about extortion of money for my birthday. They will expose misdeeds of the Congress-led UPA, BJP-led NDA and their allies, including the Samajwadi Party," she asserted.