In a startling move, the Mayawati government on Monday accorded minister of state status to Bahujan Samaj Party politician Intezar Abidi, one of the prime suspects in the arson at Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee president Rita Bahuguna Joshi's house on July 15.
Abidi, who heads the party's Lucknow unit, has been made vice-chairman of the Sugarcane Development Board.
The victim of Abidi's ire is furious. "This is the reward Mayawati gives to BSP workers who set fire to the house of the state president of a national-level opposition party," said Joshi as she arrived at her charred house for the first time since the incident.
The state Congress chief said she feared for her life. "The manner in which Mayawati is out to crush all democratic forms of protest, I fear that BSP goons might try to kill me," she said.
"This is total goondaism... state-sponsored crime. With the accused [Abidi] being given minister-of-state rank, it has become clear that Mayawati incited her workers to burn down my house," Joshi said.
"If the government does not recommend a CBI inquiry into the incident by August 1, we will go to the courts," she said. "We will also start an agitation to press for this demand."
Meanwhile, police recovered the Toyota Qualis used by those who set Joshi's house on fire. The vehicle belongs to a BSP leader from neighbouring Barabanki district.
But the police have not taken action against BSP legislator Jitendra Singh alias 'Babloo', who is another suspect in the case.
Walking through the charred remains, Joshi broke down as she remembered the days spent in the house which belongs to a Congress leader. "The furniture and other things can be bought, the house can be renovated. But the sentiments can never be bought," she said.
Joshi said the state government had offered to compensate her for the damage to the house, but she had refused to accept any compensation.
Earlier, Joshi arrived in Lucknow to a heroine's reception. Hundreds of Congress workers gathered at the railway station and shouted 'Rita didi zindabad!' Joshi said the party's agitation against Mayawati would continue.