Hours after promising 40 per cent of party tickets for women ahead of the upcoming Uttar Pradesh polls next year, Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra on Wednesday night met the family members of a man who died in police custody in Agra. The custodial death of the Dalit sanitation worker, who was detained for allegedly stealing Rs 25 lakh from a police station, has caused a row with several Opposition parties condemning the killing.
Earlier, she was stopped in Lucknow by the Uttar Pradesh Police from going to Agra, but was later allowed to proceed.
Priyanka Gandhi met family members of Arun, who died in police custody after his health deteriorated during interrogation.
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The police allowed Priyanka Gandhi to go and she left for Agra in the evening, Congress spokesperson Anshu Awasthi said.
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The Lucknow Police allowed four people, including UPCC president Ajay Kumar Lallu and senior leader Acharya Pramod Krishnam, to accompany Priyanka Gandhi, Awasthi said.
AAP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Singh also met the family and said that under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's regime, the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh has deteriorated to “a new low”.
Police said the Congress general secretary was stopped at the Lucknow-Agra expressway as the Agra district magistrate had requested not to allow any political personality to go there following the man's death.
"She was neither taken into custody nor arrested. Because of the massive crowds, the traffic movement was being hampered and she was first asked to either go to the party office or her residence but when she did not agree, she was sent to the police lines," Lucknow Police Commissioner D K Thakur said.
A Congress spokesperson had claimed that Priyanka Gandhi was taken into custody while she was going to Agra.
To a query from reporters in Kushinagar on the Congress leader being stopped from going to Agra, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said, "Law and order is supreme and no one will be allowed to play with it."
While being taken to the police lines, Priyanka Gandhi had told reporters that she will definitely go to Agra.
A similar confrontation had occurred earlier this month when the Uttar Pradesh Police had prevented the Congress leader from visiting the families of the farmers killed in Lakhimpur Kheri.
She was taken into preventive custody for over 48 hours before being allowed to visit the families along with Rahul Gandhi and other Congress leaders.
When Priyanka Gandhi was shown the Agra district magistrate's message, she told police personnel: "Do I need someone's permission whenever I move out of Lucknow? Is there a problem? Why am I not being allowed to go to Agra? Is there a law-and-order issue?" Priyanka Gandhi asked the policemen who stopped her cavalcade."
"Someone has died, how can it be a law-and-order issue? Ask the DM by calling him. It is too much that I cannot go out anywhere and should remain confined to a guesthouse in Lucknow," she told the police personnel.
Congress workers who had reached the spot in large numbers raised slogans against the Uttar Pradesh government after Priyanka Gandhi was not allowed to proceed to Agra.
In a tweet in Hindi, the Congress general secretary asked if beating anyone to death in police custody was any kind of justice.
"The incident of Arun Valmiki's death in police custody in Agra is condemnable. On the day of Valmiki Jayanti, the Uttar Pradesh government has acted against his messages. A high-level investigation should be held and action taken against the policemen, and the victim's family should be compensated," she said.
In another tweet after being stopped from going to Agra, the Congress leader said, "Arun Valmiki died in police custody. His family is seeking justice. I want to visit the family. What is the Uttar Pradesh government afraid of? Why am I being stopped? Today is Valmiki Jayanti, the prime minister spoke a lot about Buddha but is attacking his messages."
Arun’s incident comes close on the heels of Kanpur-based businessman Manish Gupta’s death allegedly after being thrashed by police in a Gorakhpur hotel. The Uttar Pradesh police has already recommended a CBI probe into the incident.
Senior Superintendent of Police (Agra) Muniraj G said the accused, Arun, suddenly fell sick on Tuesday night while a raid was being carried out at his house to recover the stolen money.
He was taken to a hospital where doctors declared him dead, the officer said.
Arun was accused of stealing the money on Saturday night from the "malkhana" (a storage house where items confiscated by police are kept)" of the Jagdishpura police station, where he worked as a cleaner.
Following the theft, six police personnel, including the station house officer, were suspended by the additional director general (ADG) of police of the Agra zone.
During the investigation, police rounded up several suspects. Arun was one of them as he had access to the "malkhana".
He was arrested from the Taj Ganj locality in Agra on Tuesday. According to the police, Arun had shaved his head to hide his identity.
"Police teams were questioning several suspects in connection with the theft. On Tuesday evening, a man named Arun, who is a resident of the Lohamandi area, was taken into police custody," the SSP said.
"During interrogation, Arun admitted that he had committed the theft and informed us that the stolen money was kept at his home," he added.
Police recovered Rs 15 lakh during the raid at his house before his health deteriorated and he died.
The SSP said the body was sent for a post-mortem examination and suitable action will be taken after the report comes. A complaint has also been filed by Arun's family in connection with his death, he added.
People from the Valmiki community gathered at Arun's house and demanded a fair probe into his death.
Local leaders of the community said they would not observe "Maharishi Valmiki Jayanti" on Wednesday until a fair investigation is launched in the matter.
(With PTI inputs)