Unnao rape case: BJP's inability to rein in Kuldeep Singh Sengar harms Modi's promise of rooting out muscle, money in politics

  • The Opposition's claims that a coordinated attempt is being made to eliminate the girl's family members, threaten or remove key witnesses and even the victim herself so that the case against the MLA collapses, make sense and carry weight

  • This culture not only involves dynastic succession in politics — that BJP has been most vocal about — but also political opportunism, corruption, and the surrender to money and muscle in politics

  • It is certainly a convenient circumstance for the powerful BJP MLA who is the main accused and now remains lodged in jail. If the lawmaker can allegedly affect the course of a case merely while sitting inside jail premises, one can only assume the influence he will brought to bear on the case if he gets bail

It seems a scene straight out of a heartland mafia movie that portrays the sway criminals and politicians hold over law and order in the badlands of India. The Unnao rape survivor — whose complaint sent a BJP MLA to jail — was on her way to meet her uncle who is lodged in a jail in Uttar Pradesh's Rae Bareli district when a speeding truck crushed the car she was travelling in along with her relatives and lawyer. The truck, according to reports, was driving recklessly on the wrong side of the road and had its nameplate smeared with black paint. The "accident" happened on NH-31 near Ataura outpost under Gurbakshganj police station on Sunday afternoon.

The rape survivor and her lawyer, who was driving the car, were both critically injured while the girl's relatives — her aunt and aunt's sister — have succumbed to injuries. The Hindu quoted Uttar Pradesh DGP OP Singh as saying that the collision did not appear like a "case of conspiracy or intent to murder".

The police may say so but the incident reeks of rotten eggs. Sunday's "accident" fits right into a pattern of similar incidents over the years since the survivor, then a teenager, brought allegations of rape against BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar of Bangarmau constituency in Unnao in 2017. The girl, then a minor, had alleged that Sengar had raped her at his residence in the pretext of providing her a job.

 Unnao rape case: BJPs inability to rein in Kuldeep Singh Sengar harms Modis promise of rooting out muscle, money in politics

File image of Kuldeep Singh Sengar. PTI

It took a year for the girl and her family to pressurise the police in naming the influential BJP leader in the rape case. At one stage, the survivor had attempted self-immolation before chief minister Yogi Adityanath's residence on 8 April, 2018, to draw attention against 'police inaction'.

The very next day the survivor's father, framed in a false case, was reportedly thrashed by Sengar's brother and his accomplices in police custody, leading to his death. A CBI investigation into the incident later found that Sengar and his partners tried to implicate members of the rape victim's family in false cases "to pressure her to drop the case."

The CBI also charged three police officers, including the station officer of Makhi police station, of being part of the conspiracy. The Indian Express quoted a CBI officer as saying that "the victim, her mother and aunt are witnesses in the gangrape case in which Sengar is an accused. The trial in the case is yet to start."

It requires no rocket science to understand that if key witnesses in the case are bumped off, then the courts will have no other option but to release the accused MLA for lack of evidence. Shortly after the CBI had filed a chargesheet against Sengar, Mohammad Yunus, a key witness in the case, died under "mysterious circumstances" in August. Yunus was buried "hurriedly" without a post-mortem getting done.

What makes the case appear even sordid is the fact that even though a court had last year ordered the administration to provide the rape survivor with a security cover, the court-designated security personnel were absent when the girl and her relatives met with an "accident" on Sunday.

The girls' family members had alleged last year that the accused MLA's accomplices were going around in their village — Makhi in Unnao — threatening the villagers not to open their mouths against Sengar. "They also made videos of villagers. One of the persons among them is jail warder. Locals residents of Makhi village know him (jail warder) because he used to visit the MLA's house regularly," the victim's uncle was quoted as saying in a report.

Before Sengar was finally arrested, a BJP legislator from Bairia in Uttar Pradesh, last year gave Sengar a "clean chit", called the rape survivor (a minor then in her teens) "mother of three", and had claimed that Sengar was innocent because no one will attempt to rape a mother of three. The picture becomes complete when we learn that BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj, who won the election from Unnao Lok Sabha constituency, visited rape accused Sengar in jail last month to discuss condition of the jail and "thank Sengar for his support".

It is difficult, therefore, to assume that Sunday's accident was an unfortunate coincidence. The Opposition's claims that a coordinated attempt is being made to eliminate the girl's family members, threaten or remove key witnesses and even the victim herself so that the case against the MLA collapses, make sense and carry weight.

It also points to a larger issue beyond the travails of a rape victim and the systemic targeting of her family members. Narendra Modi marched to power in 2014 and has renewed his mandate five years later in an even more emphatic fashion promising the end of 'Congressism' in Indian politics. His slogan of "Congress-mukt Bharat", as Modi has himself clarified on occasions, was not a call against particular political party but the gangrenous political culture that had affected India body politic.

This culture not only involves dynastic succession in politics — that BJP has been most vocal about — but also political opportunism, corruption, and the surrender to money and muscle in politics. It would appear from Modi's tenure as prime minister so far that while the BJP has been able to establish itself as a party that puts merit above dynastic entitlement, in removing the other malaises it has been less successful.

The party, instead, has shown the same traits that had inflicted and ultimately caused Congress's downfall. In states such as Karnataka and Goa and Arunachal, the BJP has shown itself to be as deft in political manoeuvring to gain power as Congress governments in the past. Where the BJP has been a total failure though, despite its claims of an India free of Congressism, is in tackling the role of money and muscle in politics.

It is difficult to assume that the key witnesses in a rape case are dying under mysterious circumstances or unfortunate accidents. It is certainly a convenient circumstance for the powerful BJP MLA who is the main accused and now remains lodged in jail. If the lawmaker can allegedly affect the course of a case merely while sitting inside jail premises, one can only assume the influence he will brought to bear on the case if he gets bail.

It makes for even uglier optics when a newly elected MP visits the tainted MLA in jail and pays obeisance to his influence. It is also pertinent to remember that despite the swirling allegations of rape and murder against him, the BJP has not yet expelled Sengar from the party. It is possible that the MLA, who is of Thakur clan, wields so much political influence in his constituency that the party is wary of turning him into an adversary.

But that is a risk Modi and Amit Shah will have to take if they want to truly rid India of the cancerous political culture. By all available evidence, they are failing to do so.

Updated Date: Jul 29, 2019 14:57:28 IST