Pilibhit/Lucknow : Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate Varun Gandhi was shifted from Pilibhit to the Etah prison also in Uttar Pradesh early Wednesday but officials denied this was linked to any threat to his life.
Denying media reports that Gandhi, slapped with the National Security Act (NSA) for his communal campaign speeches, was being targeted by mafia don Chhota Shakeel, a home ministry official said: “The decision to shift Varun from Pilibhit to Etah was taken in the wake of the VHP (Vishwa Hindu Parishad) threat to observe a Pilibhit bandh Wednesday.
“The move had nothing whatsoever to do with any kind of threat perception to his life,” the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
Additional Director General of Police (Law and Order) Brijlal told reporters in Lucknow: “In view of the VHP strike, we decided to move Varun for law and order reasons.”
Varun Gandhi was shifted to Etah jail, 300 km from Pilibhit, at around 1.30 a.m., said Mukesh Arora, jailor of the Piliphit district jail.
He was taken in a private Scorpio jeep. Nearly half a dozen policemen accompanied him in plain clothes during the seven-hour drive to Etah.
Varun Gandhi’s face was covered by a cloth to avoid a few TV journalists near the jail.
Added a key official of the chief minister’s secretariat: “Do you think the administration would have allowed Varun to move about in the open in Pilibhit on March 28 (Saturday) if there was any truth in the much-hyped news report claiming a life threat to him?”
He said the nexus between Chhota Shakeel’s ace shooter Rashid Malbari and Varun Gandhi was too “far-fetched”.
Malbari was arrested from Mangalore in Karnataka March 27 reportedly while going to Pilibhit via New Delhi. Gandhi left New Delhi early March 28 for Pilibhit and was arrested when he reached the town, 350 km from the state capital Lucknow.
“The nexus appears to be too far-fetched as it was practically impossible for the gangster to make it all the way from Mangalore to Pilibhit in less than 12 hours.”
Intelligence officials admitted they had received inputs about threats to important leaders during the Lok Sabha elections but there was “nothing in particular on Varun Gandhi”.
“Beefing up Varun’s security on March 28 was part of preventive steps to avert any untoward incident when he courted arrest,” said a police officer.
Etah, he added, was not among the safest of jails, and Bareilly would have been more secure and more accessible as it was only 58 km from Pilibhit.
“Etah jail is ideally suited for those who need to be isolated as it is neither on any key rail route nor conveniently accessible on other counts.”