How an accident caused by BJP minister’s convoy in Assam was kept under wraps for two days

A motorcyclist was killed in the accident in Guwahati in the early hours of March 4.

WrittenBy:Pratyush Deep
Pijush Hazarika, with an image of the accident in the background.

In the early hours of March 4, a convoy belonging to Assam cabinet minister Pijush Hazarika was allegedly speeding down the Guwahati-Shillong road in Six Mile area of Guwahati when one of the vehicles hit a two-wheeler carrying two passengers.

Rupam Jyoti Borah, a 30-year-old front-desk employee of Apollo Hospitals, died of his injuries hours later. The pillion rider survived.

Hazarika is a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, holding the water resources and information and public relations portfolios in the state cabinet. 

Eyewitnesses and family members of the victim confirmed to Newslaundry that they identified Hazarika’s car as being part of the convoy. While it cannot be said with certainty that Hazarika was in one of the vehicles, the victim’s family confirmed that Hazarika was “in touch” with them following the accident. 

Two leading regional news channels, Prag News and NKTV, seemed to have arrived at the spot soon after the accident took place. Yet they maintained a mysterious silence, with the first news reports only appearing two days later. 

Footage of the accident, meanwhile, made its way to social media where there was anger that channels were staying silent on an accident that seemingly involved a BJP politician.

Details of the accident

In one of the videos on social media, an eyewitness said he saw a fast-moving convoy colliding with a two-wheeler soon after midnight. The mics of both Prag News and NKTV can be seen in the clip.

“I witnessed the minister’s car – a Kia Carnival with the number plate 1111 – approaching at high speed. Sensing the urgency, I promptly parked my car to clear the way,” he said in Assamese. “However, the convoy was moving so swiftly that a motorcyclist attempting to make a turn was struck by a Bolero.”

The eyewitness said the Bolero was at the end of the convoy and “flipped” upon impact. Passersby took the motorcycle’s passengers to Apollo Hospital in Guwahati where Rupam died from internal bleeding nine hours later.

Rupam’s family friend, who did not want to be named, told Newslaundry the police arrived at their home on March 7 – four days after the accident took place. A case was registered at Dispur police station against the driver, Prakash Sharma, of the Bolero. He was detained the same day. Rupam’s family did not clarify whether they had previously approached the police to file a complaint.

GP Singh, the DGP of Assam, later tweeted that the Bolero had been seized.

Importantly, the friend of Rupam’s family alleged the car was a “police escort” vehicle. Footage of the accident also shows the Bolero has the word “police” on it. Newslaundry reached out to the Assam police for comment. This report will be updated if they respond.

Where was the media?

While discussions on the accident continued on social media, there was little to no reportage on the incident except for a handful of news portals on Facebook like The Crosscurrent, Newsznow and Northeast Now. On March 6, two days later, Prag News published a brief report on its website. Others began reporting on it too.

Prashanta Rajguru, editor-in-chief of Prag News, told Newslaundry there had been a “communication gap” due to which the news “missed his attention”.

“I was not really aware of the incident. Our team has been quite occupied with some events for the last couple of days,” he said. “I got to know about it only when I saw the tweet from DGP Singh. Now we have taken it up.”

When asked about his media house’s reporter being at the spot, Rajguru was non-committal. 

Manoj Kumar Goswami, editor-in-chief of NKTV and Amar Asom newspaper, told Newslaundry his channel and his newspaper usually do not publish “sensitive news” if there is no police complaint or potential witness. “But the allegation of not publishing the news of the said accident is baseless because we did it well before the FIR was lodged. Whether the other media covered the same, I’m not aware,” he said.

He added, “It is a problematic trend these days to blame everything on the media. The victim’s family or police should have at least filed an FIR, which they did well after the news was published. Otherwise, who would defend us in the absence of an FIR if the family tomorrow denies any fault of the alleged VVIP convoy in court?”

Goswami also said there is no “freedom of press” in this country today but “freedom of owners”. “Economics of media is crucial to comprehend freedom of the press.” He claimed that a couple of months ago, the Assam government had blocked advertisements to Amar Asom for 20 days. “Why didn’t anyone come forward to offer crowdfunding support?” he asked.

‘Want to proceed legally’

Soon after the accident, Rupam’s family issued an official statement urging the state home department to implement stringent rules and regulations governing the conduct of police personnel assigned to patrol, escort and other duties in the interest of public safety.

The friend of Rupam’s family told Newslaundry they plan to pursue legal action.

“There won’t be any logical resolution by solely targeting the minister’s name as he wasn’t driving the vehicle nor does it belong to him,” he said. “It was an Assam police vehicle providing escort. Today it is with the minister, tomorrow it could be with a bureaucrat or another VIP. Incidents involving these convoy vehicles are not uncommon. What we are seeking is tighter control over convoy vehicles by the home department.”

On March 6, opposition party Raijor Dal held a press conference on the accident, where it highlighted similar accidents in the past involving VIP convoys. Over the past five years, at least five individuals have lost their lives and a dozen others were injured in accidents involving VIP convoys in Assam. Such convoys included that of former president Ram Nath Kovind, state ministers Atul Bora and Keshab Mahanta, BJP MLA Bhaskar Sarma, and incumbent chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.

The family friend said Pijush Hazarika and his team had been in touch with Rupam’s family.

“When the minister learned of the accident, he personally reached out to us expressing his concern and inquiring about details,” he claimed. “He is genuinely distressed by the incident, knowing it could potentially become a target against him. However, we are cautious about making ethical judgements about the matter.”

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