A senior Samajwadi Party leader was caught on camera boasting before a rally that he was responsible of the suspension of Indian Administrative Service officer Durga Shakti Nagal, who campaigned against the sand mafia.
The speech, filmed two days after the bureaucrat’s removal, deepened the controversy even as calls for justice for Durga gathered steam.
"I spoke to Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav at 10.30 am and at 11 am the suspension order arrived...She behaved so badly and couldn't last for 40 minutes after that. Within 41 minutes, the order came from Lucknow and she was suspended," the video showed Narendra Bhati as saying.
Nagpal, a 2010 batch IAS officer, was served the suspension order on July 27 ostensibly for demolishing the wall of a mosque.
Bhati, who is also the UP Agro Chairman and enjoys minister status, maintained that permission was not taken to build the wall around the place of worship. The wall was built to allow people to offer Ramzan prayers, he said.
Asked about the video clippings, he said, "Media was highlighting a concocted version. I had said that it was a victory of democracy. SDM's suspension order was issued by state government".
"I was quoted out of context in the so called visuals in some channels...who am I to get an IAS transferred?" Bhati told PTI over phone.
"A day after the demolition of the wall a panchayat was called by Congress and BSP at Kadalpur village in which around 5000 people, who were agitated, assembled," he said.
Bhati said that he also went to the village and told the mob that they were being provoked.
"I only said that the government is alert and was working in their interest. I told them that I have informed them about the incident and the Chief Minister has suspended the SDM".
The SP leader said that he had requested the district magistrate not to take any step which would affect communal harmony.
"He assured me that nothing would be done, but directed the SDM to demolish the wall. He has given a wrong report to save his own skin," Bhati alleged.
Villagers at Kadalpur village have, meanwhile, demanded that an FIR be lodged against the UP IAS officer.
"Though SDM suspension has provided relief to us, we want that FIR should be lodged against her. We will give written demand to district administration and state government," a villager said.
Slamming the Uttar Pradesh government's decision to suspend the IAS officer, BJP leader Nitin Gadkari said the attitude of the state authorities is completely oriented towards vote bank politics.
"They are fanning communal and caste-based sentiments. Harassing a good officer for vote bank politics is improper and that is why the IAS Officers Association has opposed the move," he said.
BJP chief spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak said, "On one hand Akhilesh had justified action against IAS officer Durga Shakti Nagpal, on the other his own party leader Narinder Bhati, who enjoys minister rank, had claimed that he got her transferred."
Taking strong exception to Bhati's comments the BSP demanded Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's resignation on moral grounds.
"The truth has been exposed in the claims of Samajwadi Party leader who is seen bragging that he got the IAS officer suspended in mere 41 minutes," Leader of Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha and senior BSP leader Swami Prasad Maurya said.
The SP leader's claim shows that the chief minister had issued a wrong statement and so he should own moral responsibility and resign. "Either of them is not speaking the truth," Maurya said.
Former IPS officer Kiran Bedi charged the Samajwadi Party with hiding facts in the SDM suspension case due to vote bank politics
Asking the IAS officer not to lose patience, she said, "The country needs her. She will be a role model for the nation".
UP Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had on Thursday stoutly defended Nagpal's suspension, saying her action to demolish the wall of a religious place had "vitiated" communal harmony.
Facing intense criticism over the suspension of the IAS officer by the UP government on July 27, an unyielding Akhilesh was also at pains to explain there was no connection between sand mining and government's action against her. He termed the action as "valid".
Defending Bhati's statement, the SP said that it is the duty of all party workers to forewarn the Chief Minister about anything that could disturb communal harmony in the state.
"Wall of a mosque was demolished and that too in the month of Ramzan, could lead to communal flare up... Bhati has informed the CM timely and the action taken against the IAS officer was justified as she did not act responsibly," SP spokesperson Rajendra Chowdhury said.
Image: SP leader Narendra Bhati