J&K Cabinet Rejig Reeks of Disregard for Kathua Child Rape, Murder

The induction of Rajeev Jasrotia is a calculated move by the BJP to save its sinking ship in J&K.

5 min read
Rajeev Jasrotia attended one of the demonstrations organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch in Hira Nagar to rally support for the accused in the Kathua rape case.

The induction of Rajeev Jasrotia, a ‘hardline' face of the BJP, into the Mehbooba Mufti-led government and the unceremonious exit of state Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh – who had backed his ally and chief minister for refusing to hand over the Kathua rape case to the CBI – is a "calculated move" by the Right-wing party to save its political equity in the Hindu heartland of Jammu and Kashmir.

Jasrotia – the MLA from Kathua who attended one of the demonstrations organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch in Hira Nagar, part of his home constituency, in the Jammu region in March to rally support for the alleged rapists of the child in Kathua and to demand a CBI probe into the case – is one of the four new faces in the Cabinet. His induction has sparked a political row in the state.

Raking up the issue, former chief minister Omar Abdullah said Jasrotia was part of the rally in Hira Nagar – the same rally for which forest minister Lal Singh and industries minister Chander Prakash Ganga had to face the axe for participating. “... a MLA who is reported to have attended the same rally is promoted as a minister. Why are the BJP/ @MehboobaMufti confused about where they stand on the #Kathua rape?”

Jasrotia – The Man of Mysteries

Many BJP leaders and fringe groups linked with the right-wing party in Jammu and Kashmir have been demanding a CBI probe into the Kathua rape and murder case, pushing the state on the brink of communal eruption, even as the saffron party overtly and covertly lent support to the cause. But this is not the only case where Jasrotia wants a CBI inquiry.

The firebrand MLA from Kathua, who is reportedly well known to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, demanded a CBI probe into an alleged attempt to poison him last year. Jasrotia had alleged that the then senior superintendent of police (SSP), Kathua Pawan Parihar, was attempting to kill him, during a press conference he held along with his wife and children on 23 April 2017.

“He (Jasrotia) was handpicked by (BJP chief) Amit Shah as part of the election management committee in 2014. His victory and his commitment to carry forward the developmental agenda of Modiji earned him enough goodwill. He is a very ambitious man but insecure also. Recently, he drank plain water at his home and, out of nowhere, he thought it was laced with poison. He rushed to the hospital and got all tests done there, just to ensure he was all right,” a senior BJP leader told The Quint.

BJP’s Playing a Double-Game

The unceremonious exit of Nirmal Singh seems to be a calculated move by the central BJP leadership to arrest the decline in the party’s popularity in Jammu region, where it had bagged 25 seats in the 2014 Assembly elections. Going against the majority of his party leaders, Dr Singh, a former professor at the University of Jammu, had backed the crime branch probe into the Kathua tragedy.

With the dominant voices in Jammu region calling for a CBI probe into the case – a demand which was acknowledged by BJP's point man on Kashmir Ram Madhav, after the swearing-in ceremony on 30 April – the axe that fell on Dr Singh has “sent out a strong message” that the party is perhaps even willing to sacrifice power in order to protect its vote bank.

With the Lok Sabha elections a little over a year away, which will be followed by the Assembly elections in the state in 2020, the BJP will use the axing of Nirmal Singh and the induction of Jasrotia to convey that it has an upper hand over the PDP in the state. It will certainly help the party consolidate its vote bank.
Noor A Baba, dean of Social Sciences, Central University of Kashmir, to The Quint

BJP's state spokesman Arun Gupta told The Quint: “Individuals have no meaning in the party. Ours is a national party and whatever the party high command has decided will be in our interest and the interest of the state.”

Asked whether the deputy CM was axed over his support to the crime branch probe, Gupta said, ”The whole (J&K) government is not performing up to the mark, so we all have to deliver.”

Keeping the Kathua Flame Alive

The discourse for the coming days in Jammu has already been set by the new Deputy Chief Minister, Kavinder Gupta, who termed the Kathua tragedy a “small incident.” Speaking to reporters after taking the oath of office, he said the case had got “undue attention.”

“It (Kathua) is a small incident… shouldn’t get much attention. What we should do is ensure such incidents do not happen again,” Kavinder Gupta, who has an RSS background, said.

As Speaker of the state Assembly, Kavinder Gupta sparked a row earlier this year when he bizarrely blamed Rohingya refugees in Jammu for the deadly Sunjwan attack in which six army soldiers and a civilian were killed.

The police had blamed Jaish-e-Mohammad for the deadly raid in February, and three Jaish militants were killed during the attack.

Meanwhile, Ram Madhav also kept reporters guessing in Jammu after the swearing-in ceremony when he was asked why Jasrotia was rewarded when he too had participated in the rally that cost Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga their ministries.

“But he didn’t speak during the rally,” Madhav quipped, clearly revealing that he was aware of Jasrotia's support to the Kathua accused. When reminded that Jasrotia had also demanded a CBI probe into the Kathua case, he said: “The demand is being made by various people. We have to look at that also.”

Out of power now, the BJP has also let loose former forest minister Lal Singh to poison the atmosphere in Jammu with his communal rhetoric. Professor Noor Baba said that the party would like to keep the pot boiling with the help of "overt and covert mechanisms" so as to keep its grip on the electorate ahead of next year’s election. "They may be looking at Kathua as their last chance to save their faces," he said.

And with Ram Madhav, the BJP’s architect of the alliance with the PDP, choosing to speak ambiguously when clarity is needed to prevent the state from sliding into chaos, it is very likely that the storm raised by the unheard cries of the child who was gang-raped and murdered, may take down the castle of the 'unholy' PDP-BJP alliance in J&K.

(This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same)

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