Srinagar: The BJP leadership delivered a double shocker on the Kathua atrocity on Monday, betraying its desperation to pacify its traditional vote base in Jammu.
" Dekho, yeh ek chhoti si baat hain... (See, this is a small matter)," Kavinder Gupta, the new deputy chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and a BJP leader, told reporters soon after he was sworn in.
He specifically referred to the village in Kathua where an eight-year-old was gang-raped and murdered.
"Such an incident should not happen again and we have to be careful about it. The child should get justice. There are many challenges before the government (and it was one of them). I think it is not right for us to give this much importance ( bhav) to the (village name) case," Gupta added.
After a backlash, Gupta said his statement was twisted. "I had said that there are a lot of such incidents. People should not incite this issue for malicious gains," he said. "This matter is sub judice. The Supreme Court will decide. It is not right to rake up the issue."
The PDP, the BJP's alliance partner, was already squirming at another development. Among the new BJP ministers is Rajiv Jasrotia, the party's Kathua MLA who had joined a "pro-rapist" rally.
Two erstwhile BJP ministers - Chowdhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga - had also attended the rally in Kathua in March in support of the suspects arrested by state police.
The rally was projected as an attempt to seek justice for the child but it was seen as an attempt to shield the accused. The two ministers had resigned after an uproar, following which the BJP's alliance partner PDP credited the Prime Minister with forcing them out.
Along with Singh and Ganga, Jasrotia had participated in the rally led by the Hindu Ekta Manch in Kathua but he did not speak on the occasion.
"BJP ministers removed in J&K for attending a pro-rapist rally & an MLA who is reported to have attended the same rally is promoted as a minister. Why are the BJP/ @MehboobaMufti confused about where they stand on the #Kathua rape?" former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.
BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav, who reached Jammu for the swearing-in, defended Jasrotia as well as the ousted BJP ministers and hit out at media for the "wrong representation of facts".
Madhav said two BJP ministers had resigned in view of some statements attributed to them which created a "wrong impression" that they were "supporting the accused".
"... Due to wrong representation of the facts, they took a moral responsibility and decided to step down," he said.
The BJP leader conceded "all is not well between two parties" when he was told the coalition was not moving smoothly.
"(This) is something I have been saying from three years. We have always said that no coalition is easy... there will be hiccups but our party and leaders are competent to handle those issues," he added.
PDP sources said in private that the BJP had again put the Mehbooba Mufti in a tight spot in the Valley. But the PDP said on record that "mere presence" in a rally did not warrant any action.