The Kathua rape and murder and Unnao rape case could have a detrimental impact on the electoral chances of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, Ahmad Riyaz writes

With Supreme Court transferring the Kathua rape and murder trial to Pathankot and disallowing the plea for a CBI probe, there is every hope that it will put an end to the aggressive campaign by a section of the society in Jammu in support of the accused. And hopefully, douse the simmering communal cauldron that threatens to plunge the State into yet another turmoil.

The SC order should draw to a close the political mobilization by some of the BJP’s politicians in favour of the CBI probe. Ousted J&K BJP minister Chaudhary Lal Singh was holding rallies in Jammu in support of such a probe. The implicit rationale for this mobilization was that the investigation carried out by the state’s Crime Branch team into the crime has unfairly charged the accused. Why? Because some of the members of the team are Muslims – albeit it is headed by a Hindu.

Lal Singh’s two week-long campaign attracted thousands of people. He along with another minister Chander Prakash Ganga was forced to resign by the party for their earlier participation in the rally of Hindu Ekta Manch (Hindu Unity Forum) where they had spoken in favour of the accused. Ganga had called the then ongoing police inquiry into the crime a “jungle raj” which had booked people randomly.

Over time, the Hindu Ekta Manch garnered support from more sections of the civil society including the Jammu High Court Bar Association which organized a bandh in support of the CBI probe on April 11. The BJP too adopted an ambivalent approach towards the demand, with some of its leaders choosing to play both ways. In fact, the union minister in Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh, who hails from the State, was the first to support Hindu Ekta Manch and is still in favour of the CBI probe.

But the situation transformed when on April 9 the Crime Branch produced charge-sheet against the accused. The charge-sheet graphically revealed how the eight-year-old girl was recurrently sedated and gang-raped by the grown men over the week that she was held in captivity in a temple.

Sanji Ram, a former revenue official, had meticulously planned the horrible crime. He had recruited his son Vishal Kumar, sixteen-year-old nephew, the SPO Deepak Khajuria and a cop among others to carry it out. According to the charge sheet, the minor boy had been deliberately chosen to have a role in the abduction and killing of the girl, so that if he was later arrested he would be let off with an easier punishment.

The objective of the crime, it has now turned out, was to expel the Bakerwal community from the area. But the plan didn’t work out along the expected lines. The minor was soon arrested and upon his interrogation, the criminal conspiracy was unravelled.

But shockingly enough, the lawyers at the Kathua court had tried to stop the filing of the charge-sheet. The Bar association of Kathua district protested on the court premises and shouted slogans against Crime Branch officials.

But it has been quite a turnaround in the case ever since. After being overlooked for three months and largely played down in the media, the crime suddenly broke upon the national consciousness with all its ghastly details. This triggered an outrage not only in Kashmir but also across the country and the world. Even the United Nation’s Secretary-General António Guterres sought severe punishment for the killers. And on his visit abroad, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi was told by the chief of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde to ensure more safety for women in India.

The crime also galvanized the civil society in the country in a big way. The people from all over the country have protested the crime, including even cricketing and Bollywood celebrities.  In major cities, some really large protests have been held in support of the justice for the victim.  In some cases, artists have performed on the streets to draw attention to the crime. Some videos circulating on social media have shown some singers musically expressing their horror.

In Kashmir, a new wave of student protests has begun in response to the belated knowledge of the horrors that the victim had to endure in captivity.  For two weeks after the charge sheet was made public, there were protests in the Valley in support for the justice. The students from various colleges, including the girl students, hit the streets against the crime and the alleged attempts to protect the accused. Scores of the students were injured in the process, some hit by bullets.

These wide repercussions lent the crime an overarching political dimension, both in J&K and at the national level. It is already anticipated to be the BJP’s Nirbhaya moment. Just as the rape and murder of a girl in Delhi in 2012 had galvanized public opinion against the then UPA government, Kathua case juxtaposed with the rape of a girl by a BJP legislator in Unnao could similarly alienate the large swathes of population from the NDA regime.

In an election year, a perception like this and its resonance among a significant section of the population can detrimentally impact the electoral chances of the ruling party. However, much will depend on how the politics over the Kathua case shapes up in J&K and how the accused are dealt with.

 

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