Buffeted by criticism from political opponents, social activists and the media over the rape and murder of two teenaged Dalit sisters in Budaun, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav on Saturday sacked the state's chief secretary Javed Usmani. He has been replaced by Alok Ranjan, a 1978 batch IAS officer, the senior-most bureaucrat in the state after Usmani.
All five accused, including two police constables, have been arrested, with the two cops being terminated from service. But the incident is turning out to be political nightmare for the SP regime. The ruling party and the government cut a sorry figure on Saturday as Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi met the victims' family even as state ministers and SP leaders stayed away. Even Budaun MP Dharmendra Yadav, SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's nephew, failed to visit his constituents.
"No amount of money can repay a woman's honour," Rahul told reporters after meeting the family. He also demanded a CBI inquiry into the case.
Akhilesh has declared that the state government would soon refer the matter to the CBI. The girls' kin refused the Rs 5 lakh compensation the state has announced. "We don't want money. We want justice. We want the rapists to be hanged," one of the girls' father said.
The political storm is likely to gain momentum when BSP chief Mayawati meets the grieving family on Sunday. Even as she dubbed the SP regime as "jungle raj", her party leader Sudhindra Bhadoria called on Akhilesh to resign, and asked the Centre to impose president's rule in the state if he declines to do so. "The state of lawlessness has reached its climax. Removing the officers is not enough. He (Akhilesh) himself should step down as chief minister, as he is not able to run the administration."
Akhilesh's move to sack Usmani is being viewed as sudden and surprising considering the chief secretary is not directly connected with the unseemly incident in any manner. "It's a law and order problem, and if any top official had to be sacked, it should have been the Additional DG (law and order) or the DGP," said a senior bureaucrat.
Political analysts say Akhilesh has made the move with several other objectives in mind in view of the severe drubbing the SP got in the Lok Sabha election: He wants to establish himself as a decisive administrator to fob off the image of a puppet CM whose strings are pulled by his father or other senior SP leaders.
"Akhilesh wants to show that he means business. He is also giving out a clear message that he is not in a mood to appease Muslims anymore," says senior journalist Pradeep Kapoor. "This is also a way to demonstrate that law and order is his top priority and there is zero per cent tolerance on this count," he added.
Faced with the uphill task of shoring up his party's fortunes in the next state elections due in 2017, Akhilesh will perhaps have to indulge in more meaningful action than merely axing the top brass.
'Have you faced danger?'
Questioned by reporters over the rise in incidents of rape in Uttar Pradesh, chief minister Akhilesh Yadav on Friday shot back at the journalist: "Aapko toh khatra nahin hua? (it's not as if you faced any danger?)." The chief minister's counter-question left mediapersons stunned.
Akhilesh was in Kanpur on personal work when reporters started grilling him over the alarming rise in rape cases in the state. There have been four rapes over the last three days in UP, beginning with the sexual assault and murder of two Dalit teenagers in Badaun, followed by the rape of another Dalit teenager in Azamgarh. On Friday, a fourth girl was raped in Sharawasti.
Last month, Akhilesh's father and SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav had said: "Ladkon se galti ho jaati hai. Kya rape case mein phansi di jayegi? (Boys make mistakes, but should they be hanged for it?)"