New Delhi, Jan. 24: Delhi law minister Somnath Bharti today chose to attend a kite festival rather than appear before the state women’s commission, which had summoned him in connection with a midnight mob raid he had led against a group of African women.
Instead, he sent his lawyers who got into a public spat with commission chief Barkha Shukla Singh, a former Congress MLA who refused to hear them, accused them of “misbehaviour” and wrote to the lieutenant governor seeking Bharti’s removal.
The ruling Aam Aadmi Party continued its battle with Delhi police, whom it accuses of snubbing Bharti during the raid, by releasing a video on its Facebook page that shows three men in police uniform beating a man before robbing him.
As the video went viral with over 32,000 views by early evening, police commissioner B.S. Bassi suspended the three cops purportedly shown in the clip.
Bharti’s decision to skip the women’s panel meeting came a day after his party rejected the calls for his head, deciding there was no prima facie evidence that he had misbehaved with the African women during the January 15 raid against an alleged drug-and-prostitution racket.
The minister was to depose at 2.30pm. Instead, around 3pm, he inaugurated the Delhi International Kite Festival, even trying his hand at flying a kite.
Around the same time, senior lawyer Rishikesh Kumar turned up at the panel office with a female junior, claiming to represent the minister. He told commission chief Singh his client was “busy” and would come at a later date.
But Singh refused to hear him in the absence of a written authorisation from Bharti and they shouted at each other before the media.
“I have written to the lieutenant governor to ensure that an FIR is filed against Bharti based on the complaints by the victims of the raid, and that he is sacked immediately,” Singh told reporters.
Some of the Ugandan women have complained to the police and the commission against Bharti. Two of them deposed this evening before Singh, who said they “identified Bharti as the man who led the mob and entered their homes while they were sleeping”.
Kumar claimed the commission had sent the summons to the wrong address and so the minister hadn’t received it in time — a charge Singh denied. “He wanted an exemption only for today; he’ll appear on Monday,” Kumar said.
An Aam Aadmi Party statement said Bharti couldn’t meet the panel because, as Delhi law and tourism minister, he had to attend the Delhi Tourism-organised kite festival and later a function hosted by the lieutenant governor.
The statement highlighted Singh’s Congress credentials and accused her of politicising the issue.
Singh had lost her RK Puram seat to her BJP opponent in the last Assembly polls, finishing third behind the Aam Aadmi Party’s Shazia Ilmi.
After the Congress lost the election, Delhi unit chief Arvinder Singh Lovely had asked all party nominees who headed autonomous bodies to step down for the sake of propriety but Singh had refused. New chief minister Arvind Kejriwal can, however, replace Singh at any time.
At the kite festival venue —Golden Jubilee Park on the Yamuna’s banks — Bharti smiled and posed for photographs under a sky full of kites of various shapes, from dinosaurs and snakes to butterflies.
The minister, who has been avoiding the media, struck a strident note in his speech.
“The media can say anything, blame me for anything, but the aam aadmi is with me. We continue to have the support of the residents of Khirke Extension (where the raid happened),” he said.