Umesh Kolhe, the 54-year-old chemist in Maharashtra's Amravati who was murdered by two men last month, had inadvertently shared a message defending former BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma's comment about Prophet Muhammad on a public WhatsApp group angering his killers, the police have said.
The case was transferred to the National Investigation Agency (NIA) by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday after the local BJP unit accused the police of trying to conceal the reason behind the killing.
The murder was chillingly similar to the one in Rajasthan's Udaipur this week when a tailor Kanhaiya Lal was brutally attacked by two men who tried to behead him because he shared a post online in support of Nupur Sharma.
According to a police officer quoted by news agency PTI, "Kolhe ran a medical store in Amravati city. He had allegedly shared a post on some WhatsApp groups in support of Nupur Sharma for her comments. He even shared the post in a WhatsApp group in which some Muslims were also members, including his customers."
On June 21, when Kolhe was on his way back from his shop, he was waylaid around 10 pm by two men on a motorcycle who killed him by slitting his throat. His 27-year-old son and wife were accompanying him in a different vehicle.
In the 12 days since the killing, the police arrested six people, but had not linked it to Nupur Sharma's comment until this morning. "The accused have told us that they killed him because of what he posted about Nupur Sharma," senior police officer Vikram Sali said amid mounting pressure.
Tushar Bhartiya, a BJP leader in the Amravati district, said, "This happened on the 21st [June]. Had it been reported widely on the 22nd, [Udaipur tailor] Kanhaiya [Lal] wouldn't have been killed."
Nupur Sharma, whose remarks on Prophet Mohammad led to nationwide protests and global condemnation, had been suspended by the BJP last month.