SRINAGAR: Under fire from opponents and protests from Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, BJP on Friday secured the resignations of two of its ministers, Lal Singh and Chandar Prakash Ganga, from the coalition government for participating in protests in favour of the accused in the Kathua gang rape and murder case.
BJP chief in J&K Sat Sharma confirmed that the two ministers had put in their papers. Lal Singh was forests minister while Ganga held charge of industry and commerce departments.
Although Sharma claimed that Lal Singh and Ganga quit on their own, sources said the two were recalled at the instance of PM Narendra Modi, who held that being ministers, they should not have joined the attack on J&K police for arresting those accused of raping and killing an eight-year-old.
Sources also said the PM rejected the ministers’ defence that they had attended the protest organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch against the so-called frame-up in order to defuse tension as thousands had turned up for the protest at Hiranagar on March 22.
The action against the two ministers coincided with the PM breaking his silence to condemn the rape in Kathua as well as the one in Unnao in BJP-ruled UP.
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Modi, who has been attacked by Congress and others for keeping mum on the two atrocities, spoke forcefully and said the twin crimes had shamed the nation. Speaking at a function to inaugurate a memorial to Dalit icon B R Ambedkar, Modi said, “The type of incidents that have been talked about in the last two days have shamed us as a nation and as a society. I want to assure the nation that no offender will be spared.”
The two J&K ministers, sources said, defended themselves by claiming that they were seeking to assuage Hindus who were said to be angry over alleged attempts to change the demographic mix in Jammu by settling Rohingyas and Bakarwals (Muslim nomads).
The Prime Minister did not accept the explanation and said it did not behove them to attack the government they were part of.
Mufti, it is learnt, was another contributory factor as she expressed discomfort with her ally’s political backing for the accused.
Sources said Mufti told home minister Rajnath Singh that the actions of Lal Singh and Ganga had complicated matters for her just when she was trying to mollify the anger over the death of civilians during protests organised to help terrorists during encounters with security forces.
The public remarks of her brother Tassaduq Mufti, where he said the PDP-BJP coalition had forfeited people’s confidence, and the PDP meeting that Mufti has called at her Gupkar Road residence on Saturday, were seen as signalling her discomfort over what the former called “communalisation” of crime.
Restiveness in PDP over ties with BJP, especially in the light of the Centre’s refusal to hold talks with Pakistan and call off its proactive counter-terror measures, came to the fore once again on Friday, with senior party functionary Nazim-ud-din Bhat seconding Tassaduq Mufti’s criticism and saying it was time the party chalked out its future course.
Some may say he could have spoken sooner but Narendra Modi assured the nation that those who are guilty of crimes against women shall not be spared and India’s women will definitely get justice.
The prime minister’s statement comes in the backdrop of nationwide outrage over Unnao and Kathua rape-and-murder incidents that have shaken the nation’s conscience.
The depravity of the crime in Jammu’s Kathua where an eight-year-old girl was kidnapped, sedated, raped, tortured and eventually killed and subsequent developments that sought to turn the criminal incident into a communal flashpoint in a volatile region raised disturbing questions about the failure of India’s criminal justice system when it is politically inexpedient to take action against the accused.
The rape in Unnao, that happened last year, came to light when the victim tried to self-immolate before Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s residence last week.
Her father died under mysterious circumstances in police custody. BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the accused and local power broker, proved too powerful for the Yogi administration and roamed around with a swagger till he was eventually detained after the case was transferred to the CBI.
The administrative apathy in twin cases put the BJP under pressure and paved the way for the Opposition to target the prime minister.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi organised a midnight protest march demanding justice for the victims and lashed out at the prime minister’s silence, after breaking his own silence on the Kathua incident after a period of deliberation.
The prime minister is not known for bowing to Opposition pressure but he may have realised that the anger over Kathua and Unnao was vociferous, organic and had crossed a certain line where not speaking would be tantamount to complicity.
Speaking during the inauguration of Ambedkar Jayanti, Modi said: “Incidents being discussed since past two days cannot be part of a civilised society. As a country, as a society, we all are ashamed of it. I want to assure the country that no culprit will be spared, complete justice will be done.
Our daughters will definitely get justice.”
Modi added that there is a need for all to “come together”, keeping aside differences when it came to crimes against women.
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“Such incidents, be it in any state of the country, shatter human emotions. I want to assure the nation that no culprit will be spared. Justice will be done. We all need to come together in fight against such evil of the society.”
The BJP had also been at a loss to explain why two of its ministers in Jammu and Kashmir government were part of a protest march in favour of the rape and murder accused in Kathua. According to reports, state industries minister Chandra Prakash Ganga and forest minister Lal Singh had addressed a rally in support of the accused by a group called the Hindu Ekta Manch on 4 March.On Friday, both ministers tendered their resignation.
“It is a simple resignation letter, but they have done it to save party from the adverse publicity going on in the media about their publicly supporting the Hindu Ekta Manch who have been demanding shifting of investigations into the girl’s rape and murder case from state’s Crime Branch to CBI,” according to state chief spokesperson Sunil Sethi.
Modi’s statement was solemn and delivered with a seriousness and clarity that the situation called for. That, and the sacking of ministers seem a concerted effort to ameliorate the pressure on BJP.
Equivocations on timing may continue, but it is tangible action and may go some distance in healing a nation’s troubled conscience