PM Narendra Modi faced his first moral dilemma after a minister from his council, Nihal Chand Meghwal, was summoned by a Rajasthan lower court for sexually assaulting a married woman.
Meghwal met Modi late on Friday to brief him about the case. The BJP stood by Meghwal, and dismissed the furore in the aftermath of the summons. "In December 2012, the police which was under the Gehlot government, had filed a final report and a closure report. The same was accepted by the metropolitan magistrate in February 2014. If there is anything further, it will be replied according to the law," said BJP spokesperson Siddharth Nath Singh.
The court issued summons to Meghwal after a revision petition was filed by the 20-year-old victim against her husband and 17 others for sexually exploiting her in 2011. Her first information report names Meghwal and 17 others, including an ex-MLA, a police officer and a former president of the Rajasthan university.
The police had closed the case in 2012, stating that there are discrepancies in the complaint's statements. In her review petition, the woman has also pointed towards a botched investigation by the police. She alleged that the police did not carry out investigations at the places she point out, nor did they look for a CD of footage that she claims was shot by her husband while he and his friends raped her and could have served as evidence, and also that since the investigating officer worked under one of the accused in the case, police commissioner Anil Rao, it was natural that the case was closed.
The woman who belongs to Abubsher in Sirsa district in Hrayana, had alleged that she married Om Prakash Godara of Hanumangarh district, on December 20, 2010. The couple soon shifted to Jaipur, but they kept shifting their residence. The victim alleged that during their stay in Vaishali Nagar, a colony on Jaipur's outskirts, she was subjected to sexual exploitation by her husband and his friends including the union minister. She said that Godara would mix her food with sedatives and then abuse her with his friends after she lost consciousness. The period of abuse, she claimed, lasted from February 2011 to September 2011 and took place in various parts of Jaipur.
Nihal Chand, who has won from the Ganganagar seat four times, defeated his rival Congress candidate Master Bhanwarlal Meghwal by 2,91,741 votes in the recently-concluded 16th Lok Sabha elections.
Human rights lawyer and advocate for women's rights Vrinda Grover demanded that the minister be dismissed immediately. "The position is pretty clear: there is prima facie evidence of involvement. The Modi government came to power by talking about issues of women's safety and women empowerment. It now needs to be seen whether Modi keeps him in the ministry or not. Is Modi's government any different from Mulayam Singh Yadav's? Nihal Chand must immediately be dismissed from the government if not from the party," said Grover. "It is interesting that in cases of corruption charges, political parties are usually prompt to act. But in a situation that involves a woman's dignity, political parties are reluctant to react. It sends out a clear message that gender issues are not that important."