Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, on Sunday accepted the resignation of two BJP ministers Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga who had allegedly rallied in support of the accused in the rape and murder of an 8-year-old nomad girl in the State’s Kathua district.
Mufti, who also holds the Home portfolio, earlier terminated the services of a sub-inspector, a head constable and two Special Police Officers (SPOs) of the J&K police who are among the eight persons accused of being involved in the crime or destroying evidence in the case. She has written to the Chief Justice of the J&K High Court, seeking a fast track court to conclude within 90 days the trial in the case.
Singh and Ganga who were holding the portfolios of forests and industries and commerce in the Mufti-led PDP-BJP coalition government, respectively had submitted their resignation letters to the BJP’s J&K unit president Sat Paul Sharma on Friday amid growing criticism over their publicly siding with the accused.
The duo had attended a rally held in Kathua on March 3 organized by a recently formed outfit Hindu Ekta Manch in support of a Special Police Officer (SPO) Deepak Khajuria and some others arrested by the police for their alleged involvement in the crime.
Sharma had instead of forwarding the resignations to the Chief Minister called an emergency meeting of the BJP legislators including ministers and key party functionaries to discuss the issue. However, the sources said that the two ministers were forced to quit following Mufti who is also president of the PDP raised the issue with ally BJP at the highest level.
BJP’s national General Secretary and its Kashmir pointsman Ram Madhav who had been rushed to Jammu to defuse the situation had after attending the party’s legislature meeting as a special invitee on Saturday said that resignation letters were now being forwarded to the Chief Minister.
The party insists that the move of Singh and Ganga to visit Kathua to attend the controversial rally was actually aimed at pacifying the people who were rallying behind the suspects of the rape and murder of the Bakerwal (herdsmen) girl was “mistaken for their trying to shield the accused.”
Both Singh and Ganga have denied they resigned under pressure which was endorsed by Madhav who also ruled out any threat to the PDP-BJP coalition in the aftermath of the move as the two partners were working “with great understanding and in close cooperation.”
Madhav had said, “There is no question of any pressure. These two ministers had gone to pacify the people, but subsequently, their presence was mistaken for trying to shield the accused. They had never supported the accused”. He had added, “Yes, there has been indiscretion and it is for this that they decided to step down.”
PDP legislators including ministers and senior party leaders also met in Srinagar to discuss the situation arising out of the BJP ministers’ resignations and the widespread outrage over the rape and murder incident. After the meeting which was chaired by Mufti, her lieutenant Syed Naeem Akhter who is also works minister and chief spokesman of the State government told reporters that the PDP “appreciated” the BJP’s support on the issue. He said, “We appreciate our alliance partner which helped us in this case. They made the two ministers resign. I see that as a confidence-building measure. And if PDP and BJP continue to resolve their issues like this, I see there is no substitute to this alliance”.
Reacting to Singh’s claim that he had visited Kathua along with Ganga to “defuse tension” , former Chief Minister and opposition National Conference (NC) working president, Omar Abdullah in a tweet said, “I don’t understand how inciting the local people to protest & how threatening the police against making any arrests was meant “to defuse tension”.
Singh had also claimed that he and Ganga were sent to Kathua by the BJP’s state unit chief Sharma and instead of taking action against him he (Singh) has been made a “scapegoat.” Ganga has asserted that he decided to quit to “save the image” of Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, whose name was also being dragged amid the outrage against the rape and murder incident.
The victim went missing while grazing horses in Rasana village of Hiranagar tehsil of Kathua on January 17. A week later, her body was found in woods near her village. The DNA and police investigations have revealed that she was held inside a local temple where she was drugged, raped and killed.
The police have arrested eight persons including the custodian of the temple, his son and two SPOs for their alleged involvement in the crime. A police Sub-Inspector and a Head-Constable too have been arrested on charges of destroying evidence. The Crime Branch of the J&K police after completing investigations into the gory incident filed two separate charge sheets in the court of Kathua’s Chief Judicial Magistrate despite resistance shown by local lawyers.
However, Singh and Ganga and also the relatives of the accused and supportive Jammu groups have reiterated the demand for a probe by Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Asked about it, Madhav said, “It is now for the court to decide.” He added, “The BJP wants justice for the victim and there are no two opinions on that. There was never any confusion on this principled stand of the party.”
The BJP has in a counter move against the Congress which has been in the forefront of a campaign underway against the BJP for its alleged laxity on the issue demanded the sacking of J&K PCC chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir. It claimed that Mir was seen in a video terming the police probe into the Kathua case motivated and defending the public protests against it.
Citing the BJP's decision to remove two of its ministers over their joining the March 3 rally at Kathua, the Union minister Prakash Javadekar wondered if Congress president Rahul Gandhi would “only point fingers at others but maintain silence on the comments of his party's J&K unit chief”.
In the video which has gone viral on social media platforms and was played also during a press conference at the BJP headquarters in New Delhi, Mir is purportedly telling reporters that the locals believed the investigation was motivated and that the main culprits were still at large. “Questions would be raised and there must be some justification for the people's demand”, Mir can be heard saying in the video. He wonders if the probe was aimed at making some political points.
Javadekar while reacting to it said, “When our ministers expressed these sentiments, the Congress, the media made a lot of noise. We took action. They resigned. Now we want to ask Rahul Gandhi, who took out a candlelight march (protesting the growing incidents of crime against women in the country), why is he not taking action against his party's state president.”
He alleged that pointing fingers at others while protecting its own was the character of the Congress party. He also demanded an apology from senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad, noting that BS Salathia, the president of Jammu High Court Bar Association which had called a Jammu bandh last week in support of the demand that the Kathua incident instead of the J&K police be probed by the CBI was his poll agent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election. “People can see what kind of politics you (Gandhi) are doing. Why are you silent? You should immediately sack him (Mir),” Javadekar said.
Meanwhile, while reacting to the demand that the CBI should be asked to take up the case, Akhter said that the decision not to involve it (CBI) was taken because the family of the victim was against it. “What is the last incident when rape accused chose the court and not the victim, by the way,” he asked.
“When our policemen are killed fighting militants in Kashmir and when they kill militants, the same people call them patriots. But when our policemen investigate cases where the identity of the perpetrators does not suit them, and they want to protect the accused, our police become unreliable,” he said in an interview to Kashmir Life portal and weekly. He said the J&K Police was “one of the finest and the most professional police forces in the country”.
He asserted, “They have delivered objectively and professionally, the tasks that were handed over to them. CBI, in contrast, is an investigating body that looks like a caged parrot”.
He also said that the CBI has a very bad track record in J&K. Elaborating, he said, “CBI botched up the sleaze racket in 2006 and all the accused went home and all those who were arrested were acquitted by the court.” He asked, “What they did it in the case of the two girls from Shopian Asiya and Nelofar in 2009. They did something in hurry and said nothing had happened.” He added that “botched up investigations” into the Shopian case were the main reason behind the 2010 uprising in the Valley. He also pointed out that the CBI was sitting on the alleged fund embezzlement case in the J&K Cricket Association for more than two years now.