Mehbooba Mufti deserves kudos for avoiding politicisation of Kathua rape, preventing repeat of Shopian incident

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti deserves kudos for standing her ground against her coalition partner over investigations into the horrific rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in a sanctum in Kathua three months ago.

The two BJP ministers who had publicly demonstrated support for the alleged culprits have resigned, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has tweeted a promise of justice. But all this is only window-dressing after the charge-sheet last week sent a wave of revulsion sweeping across the country, including many of BJP’s own supporters.

 Mehbooba Mufti deserves kudos for avoiding politicisation of Kathua rape, preventing repeat of Shopian incident

File image of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

But make no mistake. For two months now, Mehbooba has been under strong pressure from within BJP to go easy on the perpetrators of this ghastly crime.

By the end of March, all BJP ministers in the state government apart from the deputy chief minister had met her demanding that the case, which was investigated by the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police, be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

Mehbooba was under severe pressure at the time, since her own party leader and finance minister Haseeb Drabu, during an event in Delhi, had commented that Kashmir was not a political issue and that the state only faced a social set of problems.

The twin issues could have become a pincer to unseat Mehbooba. But, with the sharpness of an Indira Gandhi, Mehbooba sacked Drabu. Now, the wave of national horror has ensured that the Kathua case no longer threatens her politically. She is in better control of her own party too.

Communal tinderbox

Politicising this horrendous crime could have led to tragic consequences. For, politicians in the area projected it as a demographic challenge rather than as a heinous crime.

It was not to them about the girl who was so horribly defiled, despoiled, terrorised, brutalised, burnt, bitten, tortured, raped and bludgeoned to death. It was about Muslims, including Rohingya refugees, living in areas that have, for 70 years, been almost exclusively Hindu lands.

The allegedly pre-planned vicious crime is one of the most hair-raising cases of racial sickness. It was evidently calculated to force the girl’s partially nomadic Bakarwal community to flee the area, never to return.

Like the adjoining areas of Himachal Pradesh and Punjab, Kathua had already lost its Muslim residents during the nightmarish genocide that accompanied the Partition of the country. The few Bakarwal and Gujjar families that remain in the Kathua, Samba, and Ranbirsinghpora belt are among the only Muslims there now.

Sordid irresponsibility

BJP leaders played a sordid game of deniability over whether they supported the perpetrators of this unspeakable crime or not. Modi tweeted his condemnation on 13 April, three months after the ghastly crime was committed.

Since mid-February, various local BJP leaders have protested the arrest of the police personnel and others who planned and executed the horror. They demonstrated under the banner of a newfound Hindu Ekta Manch, waving the national flag.

When the chief minister (who is also the state’s home minister) stood firm, the protests were joined by two BJP ministers elected from nearby areas where the crime was committed.

Their demand was that the investigation is handed over to the CBI, which reports to the Centre. That is what Omar Abdullah allowed when he was the chief minister after two women were found dead in a shallow stream in Shopian. People in Kashmir remain grossly dissatisfied with the investigations, and it fuels militancy even today.

The BJP did not officially take a stand through these past three months, nor did the prime minister refer to the particular incident while promising justice in his tweet. Now, at least one of the ministers who was forced to resign has said he is satisfied with the Jammu and Kashmir Police Crime Branch’s investigations.

Tragically, a deniability syndrome is visible elsewhere too in the way the state of Jammu and Kashmir is governed. Those in power put juniors forward and, when they decide that discretion lies in withdrawing, let those juniors take the fall.

This grievously harms the system of governance. It undermines the credibility of the system. In the long term, it promotes anti-state sentiments.

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Updated Date: Apr 16, 2018 06:32:26 IST