BJP faces embarrassment over rape cases in J&K& U.P

Two incidents of rape in Kathua in Jammu & Kashmir and in Unnao in the biggest state of Uttar Pradesh has brought deep religious and social divisions in society into open. Horrendous incidents, official apathy and moral collapse of the ruling parties both in J&K and UP has shocked the national conscience and has added to the growing national gloom and despondency.

Most striking in these two cases is the dominant presence of the BJP. While the BJP is an alliance partner in the J&K government, it is the ruling party in UP.  First, we must take a close look at both the inhuman incidents. An eight-year-old girl Asifa Bano had gone grazing horse on 10 January this year. She was last seen at 2 pm on January 10. Horses returned at 4 pm but she did not. After searching for Asifa and being unable to locate her, a FIR was lodged. Her dead body was found on 17 January and a postmortem was conducted.

She was first kidnapped, drugged and raped by seven persons including a minor. Among the accused, there are uniformed police personnel also. Criminal investigation were conducted by state Crime Branch. A charge sheet was filed. Charge sheet states that Asifa’s abduction was planned in an attempt to get a personal revenge by the accused as well as an attack on the Bakarwal community in the village and nearby areas.

The issue was raised in the state assembly and opposition parties had staged a walkout. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti had also condemned the incident. The issue took an ugly turn when it was given a political colour. Hindu outfits and lawyers bodies came out in the support of the seven accused and protests were held in Jammu, The BJP has consciously tried to make political capital out of it tapping into the Hindu sentiments. The incident gained traction in the national media after these protests.

Another case of a rape of an 18-year young woman in the district of Unnao in UP has drawn widespread condemnation. The accused in this case is a four-time lawmaker Kuldip Singh Sengar who is currently a MLA of the ruling BJP from Bangarmau assembly constituency.

Sengar had raped the young woman in 2017 but because of his influence and political clout the state Police did not take appropriate action. The Police dragged its feet to register a FIR against the lawmaker who wields considerable influence in that area. When victim’s family persisted, a FIR was eventually filed but no action was initiated. When young woman attempted to commit suicide in front of Chief Minister Adityanath’s residence and her father died in Police custody, the case drew popular attention as state and national media reported about the incident.

First, the state government constituted a Special Investigating Team (SIT) to probe into the alleged rape and killing but under pressure from public and opposition, the BJP government decided to give the case to CBI. Failure to arrest the lawmaker was questioned by the Allahabad High Court drawing all round condemnation but the BJP remained divided on the issue. At last, after considerable dilly-dallying by the state administration, Sengar was arrested at the specific court orders.

Two incidents have added to the growing gloom in the country and have brought social, political and moral fault lines into open. Very fact that in both the incidents, the BJP is involved has raised many questions in public mind. While the Congress  president Rahul Gandhi took the initiative and asked the party to take out a candlelight march in protest against the two inhuman incidents on Thursday night, BJP leaders and ministers maintained silence for over two days.

In Nirbhaya rape case of 2013, the BJP leaders were very vocal in their condemnation but now these two cases are giving an impression that they are not serious. Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi, known for his quick Twitter comments, has not spoken over two incidents nor has the BJP chief Amit Shah. Absence of disapproval from the top leadership and mild condemnation and defense of the accused from some ministers and some BJP leaders has added to people’s growing disappointment and frustration.

Efforts to turn the Kathua rape incident into a Hindu-Muslim issue and link it to Jammu based Rohingya refugees has divided the society sharply and has deepened social divisions not only in the J&K but across the country. Ideologically unaligned rather those who are not closely linked with the Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) are beginning to see the political plot behind attempts to sharpen the religious divide for garnering Hindu votes.

Four years of the Modi government and public behavior of the BJP chief ministers, ministers and leaders in 21 states and their respective stand on cases of rape and other heinous crimes has considerably eroded the moral foundations of the party and its mentor RSS. The BJP, in popular perception, is no better or bad then other political parties particularly the Congress.

It is bound to affect the electoral fortunes of the BJP in Karnataka where it is trying its best to wrest power from the Congress. Whether the communal card pays political dividends in Karnataka or not is going to be public knowledge on May 15 when electoral results of the assembly elections are announced.

Karnataka results shall set the music for the next assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Mizoram. They will also decide whether the Modi government will prepone the Lok Sabha elections from April-May 2019 to November-December 2018 along with that of the four assembly elections keeping its promise of simultaneous elections.

Dr. Satish Misra is a Veteran Journalist & Research Associate with Observer Research Foundation.