After coping with days of intense political attacks, spiralling protests on the ground and nonstop media scrutiny against the backdrop of the alleged gang rape of a young woman in Hathras and her subsequent hurried cremation on the night of September 29, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath broke his silence on October 4th with a sensational charge that behind the demonstrations and campaigns was a sinister design to defame his government and provoke riots in the state.
His statement marked a new beginning in an already murky case. The beginning of an offensive after days of defence. The chief minister’s claims came just a day after his government recommended a CBI probe in the “entire Hathras case”. The question is what propelled the CM and his government to go aggressive.
The answer lies both in what his police and the SIT came up with in their probe till then and the larger political narrative to salvage his own personal image and address the possible backlash because of the delicate caste sensitivities attached to this case.
IRON CURTAIN PAVES WAY FOR ‘NOTHING TO HIDE’ APPROACH
On the defensive, the government continued with its policy of keeping Hathras and the victim’s village behind an iron curtain. No one was allowed to go there. Even for journalists it was not easy to meet the victim’s family and report from the ground. This approach was further reflected when Congress leaders Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi were stopped from going to Hathras and were detained on the Greater Noida expressway. Rahul Gandhi was allegedly also pushed down by a UP police officer.
However, this attempt to brazen it out didn’t work, as the government found itself with its back to the wall amid growing criticism, and there was a rethink. The panic was also visible in a small but significant bureaucratic reshuffle in Lucknow as the additional chief secretary (information) was replaced. The state government also suffered a major embarrassment as the Allahabad High Court took suo moto cognisance of the midnight cremation and sought a reply.
As part of the new approach, while both Rahul and Priyanka along with a team of senior Congress leaders were allowed to go to Hathras on October 3, restrictions on the media’s entry in the village were also lifted. The government shifted from a policy of confrontation to a “nothing to hide” line. The chief minister on the very same night also recommended a CBI probe in the case.