By Express News Service

TIRUPATI: Amid the ongoing political slugfest over a series of ‘attacks’ on temples in Andhra Pradesh, the Chittoor Police have arrested an eight-member gang for vandalising an ancient Nandi idol in Abhaya Anjaneya Swamy temple in Agaramangalam village in GD Nellore mandal.

Police said they vandalised the idol in the belief that valuables were hidden inside it. The offenders are treasure trove hunters, who planned more such offences in ancient temples of the state.

Addressing newsmen on Wednesday, Chittoor SP S Senthil Kumar said, “We took up the case as a challenge and investigated it from two angles. There was a similar attempt made to lift a Nandi idol from a temple by some unidentified culprits in Karnataka last year. But the gang had left the idol in the temple premises since the idol was too heavy for them to carry. We suspected the involvement of the same gang since the modus operandi employed was quite similar and also we suspected the hand of anti-social elements who wanted to create disturbances in the state.”

The SP said, “When we received information that the gang was in Kanipakam village, three special police teams, led by DSP K Eswar Reddy, rushed to the village and took the gang members into custody. The police cracked the case in 72 hours.”

During interrogation, the accused confessed to their crime. He said, “The accused said they collected information about ancient temples and idols from local residents. Later, they conducted a recce of the area and vandalised the ancient idols for treasure.”

In search of treasure, the gang also conducted a recce of temples in Kanipakam, SR Puram, Tirupati of Chittoor district, Mantralayam, Mahanandi, Pathikonda of Kurnool district, Penugonda, Kadiri of Anantapur district and some more temples in Guntur district, said Senthil Kumar.

The Nandi idol is an ancient one and a few years ago, it had developed a few cracks. The village elders and temple committee filled up the cracks with ‘seesam’ (lead like liquid). From then onwards, a rumour circulated in the village that the Nandi idol has precious metals such as gold and panchaloha. Believing the rumour, the accused shifted the idol behind the temple and broke it in their quest for gold, the SP said.

Police also seized two cars, 16 mobile phones and various tools used for breaking down the idol. The accused have been identified as Kuruva Somasekhar (24) of Kurnool district, R Saravanan (30) and P Peddabba (35) of Chittoor district and S Kiran Kumar (39), M Vikas (34), MS Manikanta (30), JL Naveen (35) and Ashok Kumar (57) hailing from Karnataka. In 2018, Somasekhar, leader of the gang, was convicted in a case filed by the Machavaram police station of Guntur district.

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