Senior Samajwadi Party leader and Uttar Pradesh minister Azam Khan has kicked up a controversy by suggesting that the Bulandshahr highway gangrape could be an outcome of a political conspiracy against the ruling party, drawing condemnation from rival parties.
Khan termed the gangrape of a 13-year-old girl and her mother by a group of bandits near Bulandshahr last week as an attempt to "malign" the Samajwadi Party government by those who want to "come to power" in poll-bound UP.
Assembly elections in UP are due next year.
"It must be investigated whether people, with the opposite ideology or those who want to come to power, are behind this incident in order to malign the government," he said in Rampur.
"When innocent people can be murdered for political gains, for votes Gujarat and Muzaffarnagar can happen, when Shamli and Kairana can happen...It is not just a matter of two rapes. It is important to know the truth behind it," Khan was heard as saying in a video that has gone viral on social media.
He was referring to incidents of communal violence in the past.
Reacting sharply to Khan's statement, the Bharatiya Janata Party on Tuesday said Azam Khan has crossed all the limits.
"He is doing politics on gangrape now. It's a matter of shame," UP's BJP chief K P Maurya said, and demanded a Central Bureau of Investigation probe into the incident.
BJP general secretary Vijay Bahadur Pathak said it was shameful that a senior minister could make such outrageous statements.
At a press conference in Delhi, BJP's national secretary Shrikant Sharma said the comments by Khan showed how low the ruling party can stoop for votes.
In an apparent damage control, Khan today said his remarks were misconstrued since UP was headed for elections.
He said punishment is very important in heinous crimes like the gangrape incident. "They(the perpetrators) should be punished every second."
"If the government is not sensitive enough to these matters then it does not have any right to speak about people. This is a very painful incident, it's even worse than death.
"We understand their pain. We cannot change the truth. If we get into more details more number of people may be involved. This is an insult to the government. Which government will want such an incident?"
SP MP Ram Gopal Yadav denied any laxity on part of the state government over the gangrape incident, asking what does suspension of police officials mean?
"You cannot accept that all the persons have been suspended. What does it mean? Do you expect them to be suspended before the crime (happens)? No one was sleeping," he told reporters.
He also accused the media of being prejudiced towards the UP government, saying "why don't you talk about the girl that was raped and burnt in Delhi? You are never talking about it. You are prejudiced against the Uttar Pradesh government.
"We have been living here for the past 25 years, are we not concerned?" he added.