Will Kathua case redraw political map of Jammu?

The trial in Kathua rape and murder case has been going on at the district and sessions court in Pathankot. The court has framed charges against seven of the eight accused in the rape and murder case of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in J&K’s Kathua. The eighth accused in the case is a juvenile.

The girl was kidnapped on January 10 and raped in captivity at a small village temple before being bludgeoned to death. The rape and murder triggered a global outrage, leading even the Prime Minister Narendra Modi to promise justice to “our daughters”.

The Supreme Court, on the plea of the victim’s father, shifted the case to Pathankot and ordered day-to-day in-camera trial to ensure a speedy justice. The trial began on May 31. There are 226 witnesses in the case mentioned by the CB in its charge sheet.

However, along the way, the case has assumed a huge political dimension. A fullfledged campaign is on in Jammu for a CBI probe into the crime and it is led by the senior BJP leader, Chaudhary Lal Singh.

Singh was earlier ousted as the forest minister for participating in the rally of Hindu Ekta Manch in support of the accused. But, soon after Singh plunged headlong in to an ongoing campaign seeking a CBI probe into the case, major flak was also seen drawn to his own party. Nevertheless, he drew large crowds wherever he went.

Stoking the campaign is a deep-rooted communally tinged suspicion of the investigation into the crime carried out by the Special Investigation Team (SIT) of the Crime Branch of the J&K Police. Even though the team is headed by a Kashmiri Pandit, most of its members are Muslim.

After a month of leading it, Singh has harnessed the campaign to enhance his political standing. The scale of the political mobilisation has threatened to redraw the political map of Jammu. The situation has reached a point where the BJP leaders elected from the area- speaker Nirmal Singh and newly inducted ministers Rajiv Jasrotia and Devendra Kumar Manyal — are finding it difficult to visit their constituencies.

The overwhelming public response to the campaign finally forced the BJP high command in New Delhi to take note. The BJP president Amit Shah summoned Lal Singh to New Delhi and gave him a “free-hand” to carry out his political campaign.

“The national president during the hour-long meeting endorsed Lal Singh’s assertion that there was a conspiracy against Jammu and the CBI probe into the Rasana case was inevitable if the party wanted to retain the political support in the province,” the state BJP president Ravinder Raina told media.

Going forward and with the campaign for the CBI probe into the Kathua case unlikely to reach its logical conclusion, there is scope for a lot more of politics over the ghastly crime. Singh’s successful rallying of the crowds over the issue has persuaded the BJP to revisit its dissociation from him, fearing this would raise his political standing to the detriment of the party.

In recent past, Singh has also tried to expand the social base of his campaign by trying to enlist the support of the other communities to his cause. To this end, he changed the name of the Hindu Ekta Manch to Dogra Ekta Manch, opening the doors to Muslims of Jammu to also join. Instead, he pitted the Dogras against an imaginary enemy in Kashmiri Muslims, separated by a safe distance of 300 kilometres.

“Gone are the days when the Kashmir-centric parties could gag our voice through oppressive means. Now, Dogras have decided to fight,” Singh said during the recent Dogra Swabhiman Rally. “We don’t want any lessons on secularism and brotherhood from the Kashmir-centric parties which lack guts to speak against fundamentalists. Since the times immemorial, Dogras have accommodated people of all religion and regions.”

The campaign is set to go a long way. If Singh doesn’t feel sufficiently rehabilitated by the BJP, his expanded support base could become a problem for the party. More so, in the wake of the next 2019 general election. And, Congress is also waiting in the wings to electorally benefit from the possible showdown between Singh and the BJP. For now, however, the BJP has mended fences with Singh.