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Rule Of MLA

Rule Of MLA

As I write this on the morning of Saturday, I am not sure whether the rape victim of Unnao, who has been battling for her life at the King George Medical College Hospital in Lucknow, would survive or not. She has been on a ventilator, ever since she was admitted there following an attempt on her life in Rae Bareli. The ventilator is used when a patient is unable to breathe on her own.

Her lawyer has also been fighting for his life in similar conditions in the same hospital. In his case, the doctors are reportedly more confident about his chances of survival, though there is no guarantee that the two would come back to life and lead a normal life. 

What happened to the two is reminiscent of cinema scenes where key witnesses in criminal cases are eliminated when a truck is set after the vehicle in which the witnesses are travelling. Why such a modus operandi? Such attempts of murder can pass off as motor accidents. 

For a judge hearing the case after many months or years of the incident, it would be difficult to arrive at a definite conclusion whether the accident was deliberately caused or not. The accused is usually given the benefit of the doubt. In the worst scenario, the driver would be charged with negligent driving and given the punishment for manslaughter.

It was the same charge that Congress leader in Punjab who recently quit the Amarinder Singh government, Navjot Singh Sidhu, once faced when a person whom he hit fell dead. Needless to say, a healthy person would not have died of such a blow. It is called manslaughter, not murder. By the way, Sidhu was exonerated of the charge.

In Haryana, manslaughter attracts a lesser punishment than cow slaughter. Plans are afoot in the state to make the punishment for cow slaughter far more stringent. Twelve years of rigorous imprisonment for cow slaughter are not considered sufficient for killing the “mother”, as a BJP MLA described the bovine in the Rajasthan Assembly. 

The plans to finish the victim were thorough but what the conspirators could not realise was that there was never a perfect murder. A blunder or a mistake or a lapse by the killer is what a good investigator needs to crack the case.

In the instant case, the truck had its number plates blackened and it should have sped away after hitting the car in which the girl, her lawyer and two of her relatives were travelling. The driver could not speed away to safety. He had to abandon the truck and flee from there, leaving tell-tale evidence of the murder attempt.

Instead of the victim and the lawyer, whose death the driver wanted, the two relatives of the girl who travelled with her, died almost instantaneously. Who had ordered the driver to carry out the most horrendous act? 

That is where the role of the controversial MLA, Kuldeep Singh Sengar, allegedly began. In Unnao, Sengar is not an individual but an institution. 

I have recently read a graphic description of his sprawling house in a newspaper report. The house is fitted with several CC TV cameras on its walls that can capture images from nearby locations where no one would dare to talk to a stranger, let alone a journalist or Press photographer. He has his paid henchmen roaming the streets of Unnao who would nip in the bud any attempt to bring their master to justice.

Sengar is a monied man, who would send a minimum of Rs 10,000, to any girl who is married off in his constituency. His men also know how to handle those who speak against the MLA. Sengar’s is the politics of convenience. He found the perfect home in the BJP after trying out other political parties.

Nemesis began to catch up with him when the victim girl approached him for a job about two years ago. He did not think twice before forcing himself upon her.

What he did not know was that all girls did not behave in the same manner. Like the owner of the Saravana Bhavan group of restaurants who thought that he could buy the silence of the girl he fancied whose husband he had got killed. She turned out to be a girl of steely determination who would even go up to the Supreme Court in pursuit of justice. I need not mention what happened to the hotelier as it is too recent to need recapitulation.

The Unnao girl was not any different. A gang-rape by the MLAs’ close confidants could not snuff out her craving for justice. In the ordinary circumstances, the criminals should have been rounded up and put behind bars but that is not how the police in Unnao conduct themselves. When the girl sought to register a complaint of rape against Sengar, the police conveniently left out his name from the FIR, weakening the case.

No, that did not weaken the victim. She took the battle to Lucknow where she sought to self-immolate in front of Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath’s house after she failed in all her attempts to meet him. She knew that the MLA could not have behaved in an audacious manner but for the Chief Ministerial patronage, he enjoyed. He did not remain idle, either.

He got her father arrested in a cooked-up case. He was so thoroughly beaten up in police custody that he could not survive for long. He died behind bars. It was a cold-blooded murder carried out by the so-called custodians of law. Sengar might have landed in jail but he continued to call the shots from the jail. He had his henchmen who could carry out his missions without any let or hindrance.

That is how the truck attack was planned. The killers had clear information about the travel plans of the victim. It appears the personnel deployed for her security turned out to be informants for the truck driver. It must be said to the credit of the Chief Minister and his party that they did everything possible to defend the MLA who knows how to win an election by bamboozling the voters.

They stood behind him like a rock. It was only when the situation went out of control with the Supreme Court stepping into the issue that the BJP thought of suspending him from the party. As Ramya Haridas mentioned in a parliamentary debate, the suspension came the day a new law to make POCSO cases more stringent was moved in the House.

Under the amended law, the death penalty can be given to child rapists. A child is someone who is below the age of 18. What the law-makers do not realise is that it will prompt the rapists to kill the victim and thereby leave little evidence against them. In Sengar’s case, the BJP has been consistently defending him underlining the fact that the certainty of punishment, rather than the severity of punishment, is a greater deterrent against crime.

Had the BJP promptly removed Sengar from the party when charges of rape and mass-rape were raised against him and his muscle men, neither the murder of the victim’s father or the truck incident would have happened. That required a commitment to enforce the rule of law.

Alas, such a commitment is missing now. A picture I saw recently has been haunting me. It shows the father of a 15-year-old boy taking his son’s body, wrapped in a white piece of cloth on a truck after the post-mortem. There is nobody to accompany him, to wipe his tears and to console him. All his hopes of a better future lay wrapped in a piece of cloth.

Why was the boy burnt after sprinkling kerosene on him? He refused to say “Jai Shri Ram” when he was forced to do so by his tormentors. Will the boy’s father ever get justice? How can, when we have “terrorists” masquerading as lawmakers, enjoying all creature comforts provided by the state? The policemen are not heaven-born. They belong to the same society that gives a massive mandate to persons like Sengar in successive elections.

When they see a powerful person like former minister Jayant Sinha admitting in public that he financed the defence of his supporters who were accused of lynching in the name of the holy cow, they know what they are expected to do. When a poor Muslim girl in Kathua was raped and killed, allegedly in the premises of a sacred place, the police saw senior BJP leaders protesting, not against the rape and murder but the police action against the guilty. What lesson should they draw from such a protest?

Yet, when a journalist like Vinod Jose of the Caravan makes a reference to the growing incidents of lynching in the country at a conference in London, he is berated by no less a person than the Prasar Bharati Chief. I wish the head of the public broadcasting organisation had asked his camera crew to report why and how lynchings occur in the country. In doing so, he would have done some service to the nation.

What’s worse, the External Affairs Minister, who is a former diplomat, thought it necessary to condemn Jose than condemn the likes of Jayant Sinha who extend not only moral support but also money support to the mobs lynching persons who either do not profess their faith or are born “inferior” to them. All the minister needs to do to know how and why lynchings occur is to watch a 90-minute documentary scripted by my friend Amarendra Kishore.

Sengars are just symptoms of the ills afflicting the nation. Thanks to the righteous indignation that Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi felt over the Unnao case, Sengar is now feeling the heat but he also knows how the Central Bureau of Investigation was sought to be made a handmaiden of the government during the first term of Narendra Modi.

Any police organisation, Central or state, can function only when the rule of law, not the rule of mobs, prevail in the country. When persons who made use of human sacrifices to reach dizzy heights of power are in command, to expect a police officer not to take his cue from a jailed influential party leader is to ask for the moon.

However welcome the intervention of the Supreme Court is in the Unnao case, it is not a substitute for the prevalence of the rule of law in the country. We have heard about how the wife of jailed IPS officer Sanjiv Bhatt escaped unhurt when a murderous truck tried to dash into the car in which she was travelling. The truck driver escaped without the police registering a case against him.

No other government has been making so much noise about Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao (Save the daughter, educate the daughter ) as this government. Yet, it is the same government that has been defending to the hilt the man who ruined a whole family. 

However, when the Supreme Court took stern action against the state government, it took only a few minutes for the district magistrate to rush to the girl’s mother with a cheque for Rs 25 drawn in her name as a compensation for all the losses she suffered. In retrospect, an obiter dictum against the late K. Karunakaran by the Kerala High Court in the infamous Rajan case forced him to rush to the Governor to tender his resignation.

In the case of Unnao, the apex court not only used some strong words against the UP government but also took some extraordinary steps but Yogi Adityanath remains in power as if nothing had happened in his backyard. When the time-tested strategy is to brazen out every charge, why should he resign? It is the rule of the BJP, not law!

( ajphilip@gmail.com)

(Published on 05th August 2019, Volume XXXI, Issue 32)