Months after he was given conditional bail, Maruthi Rao, the prime accused in the caste killing of 24-year-old Pranay, a Dalit man in Telangana, was spotted sharing the stage with Miryalaguda MLA N Bhaskar Rao and Telangana Legislative Council Chairman Gutta Sukhender Reddy.
Pranay was hacked to death in September last year, allegedly for marrying an upper caste woman, Amrutha, who's from the Vyshya community. Maruthi Rao is Amrutha's father, and the police said that he had plotted the murder and executed it through a contract killing.
Ironically, when the murder took place, N Bhaskar Rao was among the first few politicians who visited Pranay's house and assured his family of strict action against the accused.
In the videos which have surfaced, the MLA and the Chairman are seen sharing the stage with Maruthi Rao, during an event on the eve of Dasara in Miryalaguda town.
Maruthi Rao was also given the mic and he delivered a short speech, greeting those who had gathered for the event.
While this raised concerns that Maruthi Rao could influence the case, the MLA in question denied the charge.
Speaking to TNM, TRS MLA Bhaskar Rao said, "I went there in my capacity as a public representative. This is an annual occurrence where all parties come together and host a massive event for Dasara. The Council Chairman was the chief guest this year. It is a big event that is attended by several thousand people."
‘No Control Over Who Attends The Event’
Bhaskar Rao claimed that there was no way he could scrutinise each person who would attend the event, but admitted that he knew that Maruthi Rao would be present.
“I had no control over who will attend the event and who will not. But as an MLA, I could not skip it. There is a committee that organises the event, and they are the ones who send out the invite.”Bhaskar Rao
The committee that Bhaskar Rao referred to is the Hindu Usthava Samithi, an organisation in which Maruthi Rao has been an office bearer for many years.
"I would like to assure the people that there is no relation between the event and the case. This does not change anything. Our stand is the same and I will be the first one to demand action against him for the crime. I speak frequently to Pranay's family and Amrutha, and I will do so again now and assure them of the same," Bhaskar Rao said.
On 14 September, Pranay and his wife Amrutha, who was pregnant at the time, were coming out of a private hospital in Miryalaguda, when Pranay was attacked with a machete and killed on the spot.
The entire incident was caught on CCTV camera, and the caste killing created widespread outrage in the state.
Amrutha delivered a baby boy in January this year, and Maruthi Rao was granted condition bail in April this year.
In June, the Nalgonda police filed a 1600-page chargesheet detailing the sequence of events that led to the planned murder of Pranay.
Shortly after Pranay's murder, a group under the banner of 'Thalli Thandrula Parirakshana Vedika' (Parents’ Protection Forum), comprising members of the Arya Vyshya Sangham, the same caste that Maruthi Rao belonged to, put their weight behind the accused and even took out a rally for him in Miryalaguda and even met him in jail.
Several social media posts too hailed him as a hero, with many users changing their display picture to Maruthi Rao's.
(This story was first published on The News Minute and has been republished in an arrangement.)