Minister Who Defended Kathua Rape Accused Back-Pedals. But It Is Too Late

Minister Who Defended Kathua Rape Accused Back-Pedals. But It Is Too Late

JAMMU:  In the end, a controversial speech he had made last month finally caught up with Chandra Prakash Ganga. But hours before the BJP finally told its minister in the Mehbooba Mufti government to send across his resignation, the Industries Minister did attempt a last-minute course correction.

Chandra Prakash Ganga, one of the two ministers to lose his job for backing the wrong side, told NDTV on Friday morning that he was satisfied with the investigation conducted by the police into the rape and murder of the eight-year-old girl in Kathua. He also underlined that he did not personally feel the need for a CBI probe.

The comment contrasts with his assertion at a rally organised in support of the accused in March. Ministers Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga attended the event organised by Hindu Ekta Manch, an outfit that has been protesting against the arrests in the case.

"Where is SSP (Senior Superintendent of Police) sahib? Call him here. No person will be arrested now by this jungle raj which has been unleashed here," Chandra Prakash Ganga had then said, to loud cheers from the audience. His colleague, Lal Singh, had questioned the police crackdown, pointing that the women had died earlier too.

Chandra Prakash Ganga now says he had gone to calm tempers because of tension in the area.

"I have full faith in what the (state) government has done," the minister said in an interview hours before the BJP gave in to mounting pressure from its alliance partner, PDP, in Jammu and Kashmir.

PDP leaders have been uncomfortable at the way, as its leaders put it, BJP leaders were trying to polarise the community in Kathua and beyond over the arrest of eight persons for the rape and murder committed in January. The accused wanted the case to be transferred to the CBI.

But it was only after the horrifying details of the eight-year-old girl's painful death came to light that outrage peaked.

The girl, kidnapped from near her home on January 10, had been kept sedated and gang-raped repeatedly for days by a group before being killed. She was drugged and not given food the entire time. Just before her head was bashed in with a rock, one of the police officers asked the killer to wait so he could rape the child one more time, according to the charge-sheet. One of the rapists is a student who travelled all the way from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh after being invited to "satisfy his lust".

The growing outrage over the last few days appeared to narrow Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's options and she signalled that she could consider a separation rather than continue with Chandra Prakash Ganga and Lal Singh in her cabinet.

PDP leaders also took a dim view of the BJP's explanation presented by the party's spokesperson Meenakashi Lekhi and other leaders.

"You are hung up on two ministers who were misled and joined a protest wrongly," Ms Lekhi told reporters in Delhi.

Rejecting the demand that the BJP should remove its two ministers, Ms Lekhi shot back: "What kind of action. If somebody comes up to me and says I am misled. Is it a crime to get misled, is it a crime. You do get misled, people do get misled. People in public life do get misled and the only lesson to them is that they should hold their horses before investigation is complete."

It wasn't the message that Ms Mufti was hoping for and stayed put on her decision to call a meeting of her party's ministers for Saturday. PDP leaders had indicated it was to take a call on the alliance's future.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's sharp statement that called the rape in Kathua and Uttar Pradesh's Unnao "shameful" for the country, however, signalled a shift.

Ram Madhav, the senior BJP leader who had helped stitch together the alliance, confirmed that Ms Mufti wanted the ministers out of her team. "The Prime Minister also advised us to take appropriate action to send a right message to people," he told news agency ANI.

The BJP strategist reached Jammu on Saturday to discuss the developing political situation in the state. "We will also discuss the resignation letters," he said.