BJP leaders

Licence to rape?

Print edition : May 11, 2018

Swami Chinmayananda, a former Union Minister. The Uttar Pradesh government withdrew a rape case against him without giving any explanation. Photo: A. Muralitharan

Sakshi Maharaj, BJP MP from Unnao. A complaint of rape was filed against him in 2000. He spent a month in jail but was later released for lack of evidence. Photo: Sandeep Saxena

Raghavji, former Madhya Pradesh Finance Minister, being arrested in Bhopal in July 2013 following sodomy allegations levelled against him by his domestic worker. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

An All India Mahila Congress protest in front of the BJP headquarters in New Delhi in February 2017 against a rape incident in Naliya, Kutch. Photo: Shanker Chakravarty

Many prominent BJP leaders, including legislators, have cases of sexual assault against them, particularly in States ruled by the party.

Even as the country watched with shock the grisly details of the Unnao and Kathua gang rape cases unfold, yet another major event, no less grim by any account, and also involving a prominent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in a rape case, almost went unnoticed. The Uttar Pradesh government quietly issued orders to withdraw a seven-year-old rape case against Swami Chinmayananda, a former BJP Member of Parliament and Union Minister. The order came on March 6 after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath visited Chinmayananda at his house in Shahjehanpur and had lunch with him. The two are reported to be close. The Shahjehanpur district administration moved an application to withdraw the case on March 9, 2018. The government has given no explanation.

The victim has written letters to the President, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India and the district judge demanding that an arrest warrant be issued against the Swami immediately. A first information report (FIR) was registered in November 2011 when the girl alleged that she had been raped repeatedly by the Swami at his ashram in Haridwar. She said she had gone to the ashram on her own to take sanyas. But the Swami allegedly kept her confined and raped her. She was not allowed to meet her parents during that time and was threatened that her family would be killed if she disclosed anything. The FIR was lodged by her father after she managed to escape.

Chinmayananda immediately approached the High Court, which stayed his arrest. The case had been pending since then. Chinmayanada has been a prominent member of the BJP. He won in three Lok Sabha elections and was the Minister of State for Home in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Yet another BJP leader, Sakshi Maharaj, who is now the Lok Sabha Member from Unnao and has a penchant for being in the news for all the wrong reasons, had also been accused of rape in the past. A case was registered against him in August 2000 after a college principal from Etah filed a complaint accusing him and two of his nephews, Padam Singh and Shivram Ram, of gang-raping her. The woman and her male colleague were allegedly assaulted while they were driving in a jeep to Agra from Etah. The accused also allegedly took away the woman’s licensed firearm and the jeep. The police said that the woman had been living in Sakshi Maharaj’s ashram for four years. The rape happened when she expressed a desire to marry a colleague, to which Sakshi Maharaj objected. Sakshi Maharaj spent about a month in Tihar jail awaiting trial. He was released in 2001 owing to lack of evidence.

The BJP prides itself on being a party with a difference. In a way it is, because so many of its leaders have been accused of heinous crimes. The Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), which analyses data from election affidavits of MPs and MLAs, published a report in 2017 saying the BJP topped the list of lawmakers accused of rape. It analysed the data of 4,852 out of 4,896 election affidavits of serving legislators: 774 out of 776 affidavits by MPs and 4,078 out of 4,120 by MLAs from across the States.

Raghavji, former Madhya Pradesh Finance Minister, being arrested in Bhopal in July 2013 following sodomy allegations levelled against him by his domestic worker.   -  A.M. Faruqui

A total of 1,581 (33 per cent) MPs and MLAs had criminal cases against them. “There are 51 MPs and MLAs who have declared cases of crime against women such as charges related to assault or criminal force to woman with intent to outrage her modesty, kidnapping, abducting or inducing woman to compel her into marriage, rape, buying minor for purposes of prostitution, and word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman,” the ADR study said. The BJP had the highest number (14) of legislators with declared cases relating to crimes against women, followed by the Shiv Sena (seven) and the All India Trinamool Congress (six). Prof. Jagdeep Chhoker, founder member of the ADR, talking to Frontline, said that the fact that people accused of sexual assaults on women were able to become lawmakers emboldened others to commit such crimes. “These are really bad times. There is something seriously wrong with our political system,” he said.

Social media is full of details on several BJP leaders who have been charged with rape. A BJP leader from Delhi, Vijay Jolly, was booked for rape in February last year. The complainant was a party activist who said in the FIR that she had accompanied Jolly for a party meeting to Gurugram, where he sedated and raped her at a resort called Apna Ghar. Jolly said the allegation was politically motivated and was a fallout of a failed extortion bid.

Gurugram MLA Umesh Agrawal and two of his associates were booked for rape on a complaint by a woman who lodged a case against him at Hari Nagar police station in Delhi in January 2015. The woman herself was later arrested for recording a false statement, though she secured bail. The Deputy Mayor of Gurugram, Parminder Kataria, was accused of raping a 36-year-old mother of two.

Intriguingly, such cases seem to occur more in States ruled by the BJP or in States where the party is strong. Most of these cases have been reported from Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. In February 2017, a 24-year-old woman was raped in Kutch by 10 people, including four BJP leaders—Shantilal Solanki, the main accused, Govind Parumalani, Ajit Ramvani and Basant Bhanushali. An FIR was registered against them and all of them were suspended from the party.

In June 2016, Jayesh Patel, a BJP leader from Vadodara, was booked for raping a 22-year-old nursing student of a college of which he was the president. Jayesh Patel absconded and was suspended from the party for six years. The warden of the hostel, Bhavna Patel, who allegedly helped in the crime, was arrested.

In May 2016, yet another BJP leader from Gujarat, Ashok Makwana, was booked for molesting a 13-year-old girl on an Indigo flight from Goa to Ahmedabad. The girl was travelling alone and he was seated next to her. The police complaint did not name the leader, but the airline later provided the name.

Approached the accused for help

The victims in the sexual assault cases against BJP leaders in Madhya Pradesh are mostly needy women who approached the accused for help. Recently, on February 19, a senior BJP leader, Rajendra Namdeo, raped an acid attack survivor who met him to seek his help in getting a job in Bhopal. Namdeo, who was the vice chairman of the Silai Kadhai Board, a Cabinet rank post, was removed from his post and expelled from the party.

On March 1, 2017, a senior BJP leader in Morena district and two of his associates were booked for raping a Dalit woman who met him to seek his help to acquire a BPL (below poverty line) card. On December 18, 2016, a tribal girl in Betul who had brought a molestation charge against a local BJP leader was raped by him and five others; they were trying to force her to withdraw her complaint.

In July 2013, shortly before the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, senior BJP leader and Finance Minister Raghavji was accused of sexual exploitation by his domestic worker, and a CD surfaced featuring him and the victim. Raghavji was sent to jail. In August 2014, another senior BJP leader, Hamid Sadar, president of the party’s local minority cell, was arrested along with five others on the charges of rape and trafficking of a minor girl from Assam.

Maharashtra is yet another BJP-ruled State where BJP leaders have cases filed against them. In July last year, senior leader Ravindra Bawanthade was arrested on charges of raping a 19-year-old girl on a bus. The girl had sought his help to get a job. The case was registered after a clip from CCTV footage went viral. Madhu Chavan, who was party vice president and spokesman in the State, was booked for allegedly raping a party worker after promising to marry her. In January 2017, in Kashimira, Mumbai, corporator Anil Bhosle was booked for rape and unnatural sex with a 44-year-old woman whom he had promised help in her divorce case.

In Karnataka in November 2013, the BJP leader D.N. Jeevraj, who was then an MLA from Chikamagalur, was booked for raping a 23-year-old woman. He said the complainant was out to extort money. In May 2010, the then Food and Civil Supplies Minister H. Halappa was arrested for raping a friend’s wife. He, too, had then said it was a political conspiracy.

In BJP-ruled Chhattisgarh, BJP MLA Krishnamurti Bandhi was accused of rape in November 2013. The victim’s charred body was later found at the residence of one of his close associates in Bilaspur.

Harakh Singh Rawat, a political leader from Uttarakhand who crossed over to the BJP from the Congress in 2016, was also booked for rape after a 32-year-old woman lodged a complaint at Safdarjung police station in New Delhi on July 30, 2016. In September 2013, Pramod Gupta, a prominent BJP leader who was chairman of a cooperative bank in Dehradun, and his accomplice were sentenced to life imprisonment for a rape he had committed in April 2008.

In a shocking case, Ashok Taneja, a BJP leader from Punjab, was arrested on March 27, 2009, on the charge of raping his own daughter for eight years.

On June 13, 2014, Nihal Chanda, a newly appointed Minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet, found his name in a rape complaint dating back to 2011. He was issued summons by a court in Jaipur, along with 17 others. Despite a media outcry, no action was taken by the government.

According to political observers, such cases abound because the perpetrators are aware that only a minuscule number of cases ever reach their logical conclusion. Political power seems to come with a licence to rape. Most complaints either get dismissed for lack of evidence or get lost in the long judicial process.