Senior Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan’s comments that the Bulandshahr highway gangrape was a “political conspiracy” has kicked up a storm in the state ahead of next year’s assembly elections.
A gang of highway robbers brutally raped a woman and her 13-year-old daughter at gunpoint after dragging them out of a car on NH-91 when they were travelling with their family from Noida to Shahjahanpur on Friday night.
“It must be checked if the ghastly incident is the handiwork of those who want to gain power in the state by tarnishing the image of this government,” Khan, who is known for his controversial remarks, said in Rampur a day after the incident.
In the politically-crucial UP, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to dislodge SP a formidable regional power. The BSP is also a strong contender in the elections, while the Congress too aims to make an impact.
“When innocent people can be murdered for political gains, when Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar can happen, when Shamli and Kairana can happen … It is not just a matter of two rapes. It is important to know the truth behind it,” Khan was seen as saying in a video that has gone viral on social media.
He was referring to incidents of communal violence in the past.
The ruling party has come under attack by opposition leaders --- such as BSP chief Mayawati --- who say chief minister Akhilesh Yadav must resign for his failure to protect the people in UP, which has seen a spike in lawlessness over the past few years of the SP rule .
The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) demanded that Khan should be sacked for making the outrageous remark, even as the ruling Samajwadi Party leaders appeared to be at a loss for words in defending their leader.
“What can I say about it? I would not like to comment on what our senior leader has said,” SP leader CP Rai said.
Senior ministers and party spokespersons were not available for comments.
The daughter’s father asked Khan if he would have made a similar statement for his own family. On Monday, the Noida-based man said that the family of three will commit suicide if police fail to give them justice in three months.
The BJP described Khan’s comments as “outlandish and highly objectionable.”
“It is like rubbing salt in the wounds of the traumatised family which has threatened to commit suicide. This is the worst form of politics that the Samajwadi Party minister has indulged in. I guess he has lost his mind. If he hasn’t, he should justify his statement or else he should be sacked,” state BJP chief Keshav Prasad Maurya said.
“What can you expect from a party whose top leaders have earlier been caught on camera defending rape as ‘bacchon ki galti’ (mistakes of childhood)? This kind of approach is what has encouraged leaders like Khan to make such comments,” Satyadeo Tripathi, head of Congress’s communication department, said.
However, chairperson of the State Commission for Women (SCW), Zarina Usmani, who visited Bulandshahr to meet the family, refused to comment on Khan’s statement.
“All I want to say is that the chief minister acted promptly. Even before I could reach the spot, the police officials had already been suspended. I would praise his sensitivity in cases of crime against women,” Usmani said.
The crime in Bulandshahr has shocked the country and raised questions about law and order and the role of police in the state. Facing flak from the opposition, the state government suspended seven police officers, including district SSP Vaibhav Krishna, and set up a 300-member task force that arrested three suspects on Monday.
They were remanded in police custody for two weeks.
The Centre, for its part, sought a report from the state government and details of the incident and steps taken to nab all those involved in it.