LUCKNOW/NEW DELHI: As public anger escalated, the CBI today arrested BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, accused of raping a minor girl in Uttar Pradesh's Unnao, hours after the Allahabad High Court ordered his immediate arrest saying he was influencing the "law and order machinery".
As the Opposition upped the ante accusing the ruling BJP of shielding perpetrators of heinous crimes against women, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted that no criminal will be spared and justice will be done to daughters of the nation.
Facing flak over the delay in taking action against his MLA in the nearly year-old rape case, UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said his government will not deviate from its zero-tolerance policy on crime and that it would firmly deal with criminals, no matter how influential they might be.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who led a midnight march yesterday in the national capital to protest the rape cases, hit out at the prime minister over his silence on violence against women and children, saying India was waiting for him to "speak up" and asked why accused rapists and murderers were "protected" by the state.
At an event to inaugurate the B R Ambedkar memorial in the national capital, Modi said, "I want to assure the nation that no criminal will be spared. Justice will be done.
Our daughters will get justice" -- an apparent reference to rape cases in Unnao and Kathua (Jammu & Kashmir), where an eight-year-old was allegedly raped and killed.
Several BJP leaders hit at the Opposition for "shedding crocodile tears" on the issue of safety of women and raised the issue of other cases of violence against women involving non-BJP leaders including a few over a decade old, in what was seen by some as whataboutery.
Hearing a petition in the case of the alleged rape of the 17-year-old Unnao girl, the Allahabad High Court directed the CBI to arrest Sengar, MLA from the Bangarmau assembly in Unnao district, saying the law and order machinery and officials were directly under his influence.
Hours later, the CBI which had brought Sengar to its Lucknow office at around 5 am for questioning, arrested him.
A bench of Chief Justice DB Bhosale and Justice Suneet Kumar gave the direction to the agency after the counsel for the Uttar Pradesh government informed it that Sengar has been detained for interrogation and not arrested yet.
It had directed the CBI to arrest forthwith Sengar and the other accused named in the FIR and carry out further investigation.
It also directed the agency to file status report by May 2.
Taking a strong objection to the UP government's submission that Sengar would not be arrested on mere registration of the FIR, the court said this approach is "not only appalling but shocks the conscience of the court in the backdrop of the instant case." The bench passed the order on a letter written by senior advocate Gopal Swaroop Chaturvedi demanding a court-monitored investigation of the incident and treated it as a PIL.
The court also said the father of the girl was "beaten up by the brother and the goons of" of the MLA, was arrested and beaten mercilessly in the custody, while false cases were lodged against family members.
Soon after taking over the case, the CBI brought Sengar to its office in Lucknow at around 5 am for questioning.
A team also visited the crime scenes in Makhi village and examined family members, witnesses and hospital officials where the rape victim and her father were taken for treatment.
The victim has alleged that she was raped by the MLA at his residence on June 4, 2017 where she had gone with a relative seeking a job.
In February, the girl's family moved court seeking to include the MLA's name in the rape case.
After this move, the victim's father was booked by the police under the arms act on April 3 this year and put in jail on April 5.
Alleging inaction and coercion from powerful people, the victim attempted self immolation in front of the CM's house on April 8 and the next day, her father died in jail with post-mortem report suggesting serious injuries on his body.
Faced with the embarrassment of its own MLA being involved in the case, the state government had referred the matter to the Centre yesterday for CBI probe -- a day before Allahabad High Court was to pronounce its order.
Sengar, a four-term MLA, enjoys immense clout cutting across party lines in the rural areas around Unnao district, a semi-urban area about 70 km from Lucknow.
The case has already led to a political slugfest between the BJP and other parties and former UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said the people of state are living in fear.
BJP's Meenakshi Lekhi accused the opposition parties of doing "dangerous politics" over the Kathua and Unnao cases, claiming these two incidents were being "selectively" highlighted to target the BJP and a similar rape-and-murder case of a minor girl in Assam did not get similar prominence.
Another party leader Siddharth Nath Singh raised the famous Tandoor murder case of 1995, involving a Congress leader at that time.
Union minister Smriti Irani said stern action will be taken against those found guilty in the Unnao rape case and condemned any efforts to "politicise" such cases.
Her cabinet colleague Maneka Gandhi proposed death penalty for rape of children below 12 years and changes to the POCSO Act.