Silence on stalking: Chandigarh case not a first for the BJP
Beti bachao, beti padhao. That was the slogan given by the BJP's mascot – Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Among all of India's states, the slogan was most pertinent in Haryana – a state infamous for atrocities against the female gender.
But it's the Haryana BJP which seems to have decided to dump the slogan. After all, if it had been following Modi's dictum, there would have been unanimity in calling for strict action in the Chandigarh stalking case.
Indications of 'influence'
There are several indicators which signal that attempts have already been made to dilute the case and get the accused – Vikas Barala, son of Haryana BJP president Subhash Barala, and his friend Ashish Kumar – off the hook.
The accused were charged under lighter offences, which were bailable, and were eventually released. Their vehicle is yet to be impounded. CCTV footage of at least nine cameras along the route on which the alleged incident took place has not been found.
To make matters worse for complainant Varnika Kundu, people close to the accused and the dispensation are attempting to slut-shame her on social media.
Amid all of this, what stands out remarkably is the BJP's approach to the entire incident. As the party in power, one would have expected the BJP to issue a strong statement, urging authorities to show zero-tolerance towards the accused.
However, not only is the BJP largely silent on the matter, it is also very conveniently trying to side-step questions of morality around the incident.
That the prime accused is the son a BJP bigwig would not really have become the focal point of discussion had the law enforcement machinery in the state followed due course. However, that did not happen, bringing the accused's VVIP status into focus.
Propriety demanded that Subhash Barala should have stepped down, because he would been in a position from where pressure could be applied on the administration. However, not only is he yet to resign, the BJP has ruled out any prospect of his resignation, brazenly saying that he has nothing to do with the incident.
Echoes of 'Saheb'
The entire case, as it has unfolded so far, bears stark resemblance to another controversy that hit the BJP four years ago. In 2013, investigate journalism web-portals gulail.com and cobrapost.com released audio recordings of telephone conversations between BJP chief Amit Shah and a senior IPS officer in Gujarat.
The recordings indicated that Shah, as former Home Minister of Gujarat, had ordered the officer to use men and resources at his disposal to carry out surveillance on a woman in Bangalore in 2009.
The officer, GL Singhal, had reportedly given hundreds of such recorded telephonic conversations to the CBI. He had claimed that the state intelligence bureau, the crime branch and the anti-terrorist squad came together to 'stalk' the woman.
The portals had claimed that Shah could be heard in the tapes ordering 'illegal surveillance' on the woman, for somebody he repeatedly referred to as 'Saheb'.
However, the woman herself mysteriously surfaced in 2014, approached the Supreme Court, and said that she had, in fact, personally requested the surveillance on her.
Bizarrely, she also thanked the Gujarat government for ensuring her safety, and requested the SC to end all probes in the case.
No agency ever took action on its own after that, and the case has been languishing for years now. The BJP, too, took no action against Shah, who kept denying the authenticity of the tapes.
That case, like the Chandigarh case, shows that BJP leaders have a special way of handling stalking cases – just keep brazening it out till the case is dead.
It takes courage
However, this case is potentially different – because the alleged victim herself is the complainant – and she has shown remarkable courage so far.
Varnika has refused to remain anonymous and her father, Virender, an IAS officer, has said resolutely that they will continue to fight till justice is done.
They are up against powerful adversaries. It's over to the BJP now.