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Virbhadra stands cornered in Kotkhai case: Will this be his political nemesis?

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 20 July 2017, 21:35 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The developments in the Gudiya rape case in the Kotkhai area of Shimla district has started having its repercussions. Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh stands cornered over the issue and he himself is to be blamed for it.

People are pointing out that although he is referred to as 'Rajaji' by his supporters, he needs to realise that Himachal Pradesh does not follow monarchy and he cannot make irresponsible statements. This case has gotten complicated because of botched-up investigations and it has touched the raw nerve of the masses who continue to hit the streets in thousands on a daily basis.

The state capital of Shimla observed a shut down on Thursday with various organisations and political parties carrying on with the protests and created traffic jams. Protests were also planned in other districts of the state including Solan, Mandi and Una.

The matter took a turn for the worse at Kotkhai on Wednesday when a protesting mob torched the local police station following the death of one of the accused, a Nepalese, in custody.

Before they torched it, the mob had also ransacked the police station, burnt some uniforms, furniture and computers besides other articles. They also assaulted the policemen on duty. The mob had resorted to stone pelting injuring two police personnel seriously.

There were traffic jams at other places in Theog, Fagu, Dhalli and Mashobra.

The police claim that the accused Suraj was killed by another co-accused Raju who had hit his head against the wall. Raju had allegedly given the victim a lift on her way back from school on 4 July following which she had been raped and murdered. Suraj had allegedly pinned the blame on Raju in his statement before the police.

The agitated people raised the question – why did the police keep the two of them in the same lock up. They are also questioning why the accused were detained in a relatively unsafe police station, like the one in Kotkhai, and not in Shimla proper.

Sources disclosed that the police personnel posted in some of the posts in remote areas have been relocated to safer places and additional forces have been sent to Kotkhai and Theog.


Fast track it

Meanwhile, the Himachal Pradesh High Court has directed the CBI to constitute a three-member Special Investigation Team following a plea made by the state government to direct the CBI to take over the investigation. The SIT has been asked to file a compliance report within two weeks.

In a knee jerk reaction, the state government ordered the transfers of IGP ZH Zaidi, SP Shimla DW Negi and ASP Bhajan Dev Negi who were heading the SIT formed by the state police.

State Governor Acharya Devvrat has also sought a report from the chief secretary VC Pharka and the DGP Somesh Goyal on the steps being taken to diffuse the situation.

The political parties have also upped the ante on the issue as this is the poll year.

The BJP MPs from the state including union health minister JP Nadda, former chief minister and Kangra MP Shanta Kumar, Shimla MP Virender Kashyap, Mandi MP Ram Swaroop, Hamirpur MP Anurag Thakur along with state BJP president Satpal Singh Satti met union home minister Rajnath Singh to seek his intervention in the case.

Meanwhile, former chief minister Prem Kumar Dhumal has been calling for Virbhadra's resignation.

Even the Left parties have been steeping up the ante against Virbhadra. Some of the most powerful protests in the state have been carried out by the Nagrik Sabhas which have a strong Left component. CPM Leader Rakesh Singha has also called for Virbhadra's resignation blaming the breakdown of the law and order machinery of the state on him.

The people, particularly of the Kotkhai area are very angry over the 'irresponsible statements' made by Virbhadra in the issue. Virbhadra had represented the Jubbal-Kotkhai seat in the beginning of his political career, but the residents seem to have no love left for him.


Wrong words

“First he says in all arrogance that the people of Kotkhai are trying to act smart. Can't he see that people have left their apple harvest, which is their main livelihood, on the streets? It is not only the anger over this rape but an outburst of frustration at the way things have gone downhill during his regime. People are very annoyed in the manner he has favoured officials out of turn and has provided extensions to his coterie of officials, particularly those from Kinnaur district,” pointed out a Kotkhai resident.

People are also annoyed at Virbhadra trying to convey that the protests are politically motivated. At a public meeting at Padhar in Mandi on Wednesday, he said the matter is being flared up and politicised by the BJP. He said that to play politics on the death of a minor girl was shameful, as her soul also won't be able to rest in peace.

“I am sincerely committed to bring the criminals to book and want them to be hanged for the heinous crime they have committed,” Virbhadra said while asking the media to restrain from exaggerating this issue keeping in view the sensitivity of this 'one of the rarest' cases.

“It is true that the politicians are trying to reap political benefits from the protests but the turnout of the masses on the roads is not politically motivated. The people understand what the BJP is trying to achieve and won't get carried away so easily. This is something much more that is related to the safety of their daughters who walk long distances daily,” pointed out another resident of Kotkhai. 


The politics of it

Observers say that the Congress is already on the back foot in the poll year given the charges of money laundering against Virbhadra and the history of the state having alternative regimes till now, barring the first Chief Minister YS Parmar who had repeated his terms thrice.

The Gudiya case will have tremendous repercussions for the party in the upper Himachal districts which till now have been bastions of the Congress. The people are also annoyed at the Congress MLA from Theog Vidya Stokes maintaining a stoic silence over the issue while the Kotkhai MLA Rohit Thakur started speaking on the matter pretty late.

Within his own party, the state Congress chief Sukhvinder Singh Sukhu has already pointed at the posting of pictures of four accused on Virbhadra's Facebook page and then withdrawing them as being one of the reasons for the public flare up. The people are pointing out that those arrested are different from these four and hence are alleging a cover up in the case.

Congress leader and former minister Vijai Singh Mankotia, who fell out with Virbhadra once again recently and has revolted against his own government, too has called for Virbhadra's removal and the imposition of President's rule in the state.

“Such a thing has never taken place before in Himachal. This is a case worse than the Nirbhaya case and has taken place in a peaceful state often referred to as Devbhoomi and Veerbhoomi. Secondly the killing of a suspect in custody a day before he was to appear in court points at what the people have been saying – that there is an attempt to save some influential people with high political connections. The police have been compromised and the politicians have been compromised in the case,” he told Catch.

“He (Virbhadra) has no moral right to continue since he is himself facing criminal charges and is out on bail in the money laundering case being investigated by Enforcement Directorate. We need to have a semblance of a clean government,” he further said.

Many Congress workers feel that the party high command will now have to think twice whether it wants to go into the forthcoming poll battle with Virbhadra as the face of the party. The Gudiya case could be his political nemesis.


First published: 20 July 2017, 21:35 IST