The BJP distanced itself on Friday from one of the accused in the mob attack on a young Tanzanian woman in Bengaluru after reports emerged that he was a member of the party.
Lokesh Bangari, a sitting member of the Chikkabanavara Gram Panchayat, was among the five suspects arrested by the police in the incident that has triggered widespread revulsion with many on social media calling it “racial assault”.
His colleague and a member of the same panchayat, Kabeer Ahmed, confirmed that Bangari was a member of the saffron party but BJP spokesperson S Prakash dismissed it, saying political allegiances of panchayat members was not permanent as local body polls weren’t fought on party symbols.
“There are more than 30 lakh members in our party. As far as we know he is not a member. People claiming that he belongs to our party should produce his membership number,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Ahmed had insisted to HT that Bangari was innocent.
“His ID card was lying on the road where the attack happened. He was an innocent bystander and actually wanted to help the victims but the crowd was too angry and strong. In the mêlée, he lost his wallet and ID cards,” Ahmed said.
Claiming to have been on the spot when the incident happened, he said, “It is true that the woman was stripped. It was wrong. But people were angry.”
The other arrested men - Venkatesh, Salim Pasha, Bhanuprakash and Rahmatullah - are members of a pro Kannada organisation, a junior police officer said. However, senior officials have not yet made any details of the accused public.
The incident took place on Sunday night when the victim and three other Tanzanian students were travelling in their car near a spot in suburban Bengaluru where a Sudanese driver had run over a local woman minutes earlier.
The external affairs ministry said those behind the violence would face stringent punishment and gave assurances to African countries about the safety of 5,000 students from the continent studying in India. The Centre has announced a high-level team that will visit Bengaluru to probe the attack.
The incident has also ignited a political row after the Karnataka home minister G Parameshwara he blurted out the victim’s name at a press conference on Thursday and contested her accusations, as Karnataka’s Congress-led government faced a barrage of criticism from opposition parties and women’s rights groups.
Local police are facing flak for allegedly failing to stop the attack after the student said she pleaded with some cops at the spot for help, while one of the male victims told HT that officers had threatened them and asked them not to speak to anyone, particularly the media. There were also allegations that police initially refused to file an FIR.
Correction: An earlier version of this copy said the BJP member was the prime accused. The copy has been updated to say that he is among the accused.