Women's organisations have condemned the Bhartiya Janta Party’s decision to announce the candidature of the wife of rape convict Kuldeep Singh Sengar in the upcoming panchayat elections.
Activists who had led the movement in 2017 for the arrest of the then BJP legislator Sengar for raping a 17-year-old in Unnao, have called the Yogi Adityanath-led BJP government a “sympathizer of rapists”. In both Unnao and Hathras rape cases, the Adityanath government has tried to protect the accused and showed reluctance in taking prompt action against the culprits, they said.
The ruling saffron party announced on April 9 that it has given a ticket to Sangeeta, wife of Sengar, who is the outgoing Zila Panchayat Chairperson of Unnao, from Fatehpur Chaurasi (Ward No. 22) Tritaya seat. Sangeeta had become the Zila Panchayat chairman from Unnao district in 2016.
In Uttar Pradesh, panchayat elections will be held in four phases starting April 15 when votes will be cast in 18 districts. Voting for the second phase will be held on April 19. For the third and fourth phases, voting will be held on April 26 and April 29, respectively.
These panchayat elections are being perceived as a test for CM Yogi Adityanath’s popularity, and an opportunity for the opposition parties to gauge the public mood in the state ahead of the state Assembly polls due next year. These elections are also crucial against the backdrop of the farmers’ protests against the newly enacted farm laws, which have also gripped some parts of UP as well.
Women’s rights activist Madhu Garg believes that by giving the ticket to Sengar’s wife, BJP is empowering the family of a convicted criminal in politics. Garg, who is also the state vice president of All India Democratic Women’s Association, said that from Kathua to Hathras, BJP has always supported the accused who committed crimes against women.
Another veteran women’s rights activist and former vice chancellor of Lucknow University Professor Roop Rekha Verma opined that ‘Mission Shakti’ and ‘Beti Bachao and Beti Padhao’ are merely an eyewash as “the saffron brigade always stands with the rape-accused”. She also accused the BJP of playing caste politics in rape cases and supporting the culprits if they belong to the upper caste, especially Thakurs.
Prof Verma recalled the case of BJP leader Daya Shanker Singh, who had made derogatory remarks against former Chief Minister Mayawati in 2016. After an outrage, BJP expelled him from the party and gave a ticket to his wife, Swati Singh, in the Assembly election in 2017 from Lucknow. Singh had won the election following which, her husband’s expulsion was revoked. “BJP is repeating the same tradition this time too by elevating Sengar’s wife's political career, by nominating her as a party candidate,” she added.
Social activist Naish Hasan also denounced the decision of the ruling party and said that BJP was attempting to maintain Sengar’s political influence in the area. “BJP never considered Sengar a criminal; their leaders have always visited him in the prison, especially around election time. Now, the BJP is accommodating his family in the party from the back door,” said Hasan.
President of Mahila Federation Asha Mishra told NewsClick that the BJP has faced a lot of embarrassment for protecting Sengar, but it did not learn any lesson from it. “BJP needs winning candidates, it has no problem with candidates having criminal backgrounds,” she said.
Meanwhile, BJP leadership has defended the decision saying that Sengar’s wife has no criminal history. However, Meena Singh, joint secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association, questioned, “Did Sangeeta ever raise voice against the crimes of her husband after the Unnao case?” If she was not speaking against her husband, does it not convey her tacit support to him?”
Sengar had raped a 17-year-old girl in Unnao, who had approached him asking for a job on June 4, 2017. The streets of the state capital witnessed many protests and outrage against Kuldeep Singh Sengar in 2017 after the details of the case came to light. However, the BJP not only refused to expel him from the party for over a year, but the state government was also accused of delaying any action against him. He was sentenced to life in prison by a Delhi court on December 20, 2019. After his conviction, the four-time legislator was disqualified as a member of the Uttar Pradesh legislative assembly on February 25, 2020.
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(The author is a freelance journalist based in Lucknow.)
Update: After three days of protest, BJP has withdrawn Sangeeta Senger's candidature.