Kathua rape case: PDP-BJP divide widens as ex-minister Choudhary Lal Singh takes aim at Mehbooba Mufti govt

Jammu: The BJP is playing with fire in the Jammu region with Choudhary Lal Singh — one of the two ministers unceremoniously ousted from the Mehbooba Mufti government — addressing over a dozen rallies on Tuesday in solidarity with the alleged culprits arrested in the brutal rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl, and also to demand a CBI probe in the case. To many political observers, this likely marks the beginning of a dangerous turning point in the communally-divided state.

On Tuesday, when the heavily-garlanded former forest minister of the state climbed onto a makeshift stage in Satwari Chowk of Jammu city, hundreds of his supporters — women included — resorted to intense sloganeering, denouncing the Jammu and Kashmir Police's probe into the case. Visibly enraged, Singh lent support to their demands of a CBI probe even as his speech was punctuated by slogans like "Bharat Mata Ki Jai".

"She is our daughter. We are fighting to punish her culprits, but it is a tragedy that people living far away (in Kashmir) are passing judgment on the case without knowing the facts. Our fight is for justice, which will be only be done by identifying the real culprits," Singh said in his speech.

 Kathua rape case: PDP-BJP divide widens as ex-minister Choudhary Lal Singh takes aim at Mehbooba Mufti govt

Choudhary Lal Singh leads a protest rally in Jammu on Tuesday. PTI

BJP's meaningful silence

The silence of the BJP, which is in an alliance with the PDP in the state, has added to the confusion. While it was reported that the Prime Minister Narendra Modi intervened to get Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, the industries minister, to resign for rallying in favour of the alleged culprits, that the party has not taken any action against Singh for his tirades against the police, implicitly points to a 'covert understanding' aimed at keeping the pot boiling.

Singh is tapping into the anger that has polarised the state along communal lines following the arrest of eight members of the Hindu community who, according to the Jammu and Kashmir Police, planned the murder of nomad girl in order to terrorise the small nomadic Muslim community living in Rassana and force them to leave. By publicly supporting the cause of the alleged culprits, the former minister, who was previously associated with the Congress, is keeping open a window of opportunity that his party may require in the coming days.

"Obnoxious as it may sound, the brutal murder of the girl is being used by the BJP to feed the anger and perpetuate a sense of alienation within its vote bank in the Hindu heartland, Jammu. As the state Assembly elections are less than two years away, the party is busy playing the communal card, pushing the people of Jammu into a kind of uncertainty where players like Singh seem like proxy candidates of the Hindutva brigade. This doesn't bode well for the state," a PDP MLC told Firstpost on Tuesday evening.

Helplessness in PDP

The PDP, on the other hand, is maintaining a stoic silence on the 'misadventures' of the BJP leaders. While the party stood its ground during the past three months, turning down the demands for a CBI probe by its alliance partner, the growing restlessness in Jammu region where Hindu Ekta Manch, a fringe group backed by the BJP, that is rallying support for the alleged culprits, is moving beyond the PDP's comfort levels.

The widening divide between the two parties may not be a threat to the coalition, at least not in coming weeks or even months, but it has certainly put a question mark on the future of their alliance. "If they (PDP) won't act against the legislators who speak in favour of terrorists and Pakistan, why should we target Lal Singh or any other leader from the party who wants a CBI probe into the case, and rightfully so," a senior BJP leader told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

Singh, known for his flirtatious politics, may also have other ideas. With his ouster from the cabinet, he may feel emboldened to raise the rhetoric in order to salvage his own political career.

After remaining with the Congress, he switched sides to the BJP and successfully contested from Basholi constituency in the 2014 state Assembly election. With power irretrievably out of his hands, a lot of thinking might be going on considering the BJP's prospects already look bleak in Jammu and Kashmir.

"The whole world went there (Rassana). Why did the home minister not go?" Singh asked his supporters on Tuesday, in a clear reference to Mehbooba, "Was there any problem? And these people who have been beating their chests, why have you become the 'thekedaars' of the victim. The girl is ours, the boy (juvenile held in the case) is ours and the land is ours but these people have become 'thekedaars'. If you have little shame left, go there and don’t speak nonsense. Instead, you are going to the entire country, even to the prime minister."

That the former minister, an MLA of the BJP, is launching a direct attack on the chief minister with whom his party shares an alliance, illustrates the distrust between the two parties. But these 'misadventures', overtly and covertly backed by the BJP, may push the state of Jammu and Kashmir into a sort of communal delirium from where there might be a point of no return.

Updated Date: Apr 18, 2018 10:40:57 IST