Two weeks after a man was burnt to death and the woman he loved taken to hospital with 60 per cent burns, the BJP government in Madhya Pradesh has found itself trying not to get singed by the flames of caste politics ahead of by-elections due later this month.
On September 16, late in the night, 25-year-old Rahul Yadav was allegedly set on fire in the Semra Leharia village in the Sagar district, around 170 km from Bhopal.
A member of a community classified as an Other Backward Class or OBC, he blamed the Brahmin family of the woman he was in love with in a cellphone video recorded before he died.
He named four people including the girl’s father, her elder brother and two others. All four were arrested soon after and their house was demolished by authorities.
But now, the Madhya Pradesh government seems to have landed in a spot over the move, prompting Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan to order a CBI probe and take over the treatment of the treatment of the 23-year-old woman who suffered burn injuries in the incident.
“The Chief Minister has asked for a CBI investigation into the incident. The Chief Minister has also directed us to arrange the best possible treatment for her. She will be shifted to a private hospital,” Sagar District Collector Deepak Arya said.
The case saw its first twist a few days after the incident when the woman claimed that the man accidentally caught fire while trying to set her ablaze at her place, while her family members tried to rescue both of them.
She also had her statement recorded before an executive magistrate countering allegations by the man who had said her family members had poured petrol on them and set them on fire.
However, by then, Bhupendra Singh, a senior minister and MLA from Sagar came out in support of the demand of the villagers to demolish the house – a practice adopted by the government in crimes deemed “heinous”.
He also visited the village, and announced Rs 1 lakh compensation for the family of Rahul Yadav and said he would recommend a government job for a family member following protests from the OBC community.
This, coupled with the woman’s statement, left the Brahmin community up in arms against the BJP government in the state and prompted demands for the resignation of Bhupendra Singh.
The Congress too questioned the move with party spokesperson Narendra Saluja saying, “After the demand from one community, the administration demolished the house. Now, after listening to the other, the government ordered a CBI investigation. They are trying to copy UP by demolishing the houses of criminals, but if it was illegal, then why were you silent? First, they acted and are now talking about an investigation.”
The CBI inquiry was announced in Bhopal soon after the dominant community announced it would mobilise one lakh people in a rally against the BJP with less than a month to go for by-elections in a Lok Sabha and three assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh.
There are 26 assembly seats in six districts of the Sagar division in the Bundelkhand region. Sagar district accounts for the maximum eight assembly seats.
A by-election is also due in the Prithvipur seat where upper caste communities and OBCs both have a sizeable vote. The seat fell vacant after the death of former Congress minister Brijendra Rathore. Resentment in any section can ruin the prospects of the ruling BJP.