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Street siege steps up rape heat on Akhilesh

Police use water cannons to disperse the BJP’s women activists in Lucknow on Monday. (PTI)

Lucknow, June 2: A resurgent BJP today besieged the street leading to chief minister Akhilesh Yadav’s office, its motivation underlined by the way its state president joined thousands of women activists in withstanding the police’s water cannons for an hour.

The specific issue was the rising rapes but it was clear the BJP was raring to take on the Samajwadi government on the back of a stunning general election performance that came after years on the sidelines.

Some 5,000 party workers, over half of them from the women’s wing, raised a ruckus for two-and-a-half hours in temperatures of 44C, refusing to give ground as the police blasted them with water in the face.

The Union home ministry too stepped up the heat on the state government, shooting off a letter today asking why the stringent provisions of the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act had not been slapped on the accused in Badaun.

The case refers to the gang rape and murder of two Dalit teens in a village, where the list of accused includes two police constables and a man said to enjoy the ruling Samajwadi Party’s patronage.

Two days ago, the Congress had stolen the march on the rest of the state Opposition when Rahul Gandhi visited the Badaun village. It prompted Mayawati to follow suit yesterday.

Today, the BJP shifted the attention to Lucknow with its noisy agitation, keen to dominate the Opposition space after winning 71 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats on its own last month.

Samajwadi spokesperson Gaurabh Bhatia termed the demonstration an “unfortunate political gimmick” and tried to pass the onus to the Centre.

“The state government has already ordered a CBI probe. It’s now the turn of the BJP-led government at the Centre to see that the CBI properly investigates the case and brings the guilty to book,” he said.

But the agitators clubbed the Badaun outrage with similar atrocities in Etawah and Azamgarh as they attacked the state government.

The protests began around 11.30am with the BJP women screaming slogans and showing bangles to the police in a symbolic insult. By 1pm, the police began trying to beat the crowd back with water cannons and succeeded only by 2pm.

“We’ll continue to hit the streets and let them hear our cries; we’ll shake up the slumbering administration. We’ll suspend all our family activities to come here,” said Puja Srivastava, a BJP worker from Lucknow.

State BJP president Laxmikant Bajpai, his clothes drenched in water, told reporters the state government was unable to contain the crime wave because “a section of Samajwadi activists are involved in most such crimes and the police are never allowed a free hand”.

Five of the accused — brothers Pappu Yadav, Awadhesh Yadav and Urvesh Yadav and police constables Chhatrapal Yadav and Sarvesh Yadav — have been arrested. Two other accused are in hiding.

They have been booked for gang rape and murder, both of which can now bring the death penalty or a life term. But junior home minister Kiren Rijiju told reporters in New Delhi that the state government should have invoked the SC/ST Act, PTI reported.

“It was a clear case of atrocity on a weaker section of society. We don’t know why the state government has not slapped it against the accused,” Rijiju said.