NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Thursday moved the rape trial of a powerful regional politician to the capital, New Delhi, to allay fears he could influence the outcome, a further embarrassment for the Hindu nationalist ruling party.
Federal police opened a murder investigation this week against Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a legislator from northern Uttar Pradesh state, after a truck crashed into the car of the young woman who accuses him of rape. Two of her relatives were killed in the crash on Sunday and she is fighting for her life in hospital.
He denies the rape and any involvement in the car crash.
The case has led to anger at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which also controls the regional government in Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state. Opposition groups accused the party of protecting Sengar.
The party expelled Sengar on Thursday, a decision taken by its national leadership, led by Modi’s close aide Amit Shah, BJP’s Uttar Pradesh unit said in a statement late on Thursday.
The Supreme Court directed that the case be moved out of Uttar Pradesh, and that the investigation into the car crash should be completed within seven days.
Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi set a 45-day deadline to resolve the rape case, which has made little progress in Uttar Pradesh. He ordered the Uttar Pradesh state government to pay the accuser interim compensation of 2.5 million rupees ($36,200).
Sengar’s lawyer Awadhesh Singh told Reuters he would fight the case wherever it was being heard: “We were fighting here, and we will continue to fight there also.”
The case was thrust into the spotlight last year when the accuser, who was a teenager in 2017 when she says she was raped, tried to kill herself, accusing the police of inaction.
The main opposition Congress party said the decision to move the case out of Uttar Pradesh points to a dire law-and-order situation under the state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, a monk-turned-politician who says crime has fallen on his watch.
“The Supreme Court’s order is proof that Adityanath’s government is neither able to maintain law and order, nor punish criminals,” a Congress spokesman, Randeep Singh Surjewala, said on Twitter.
($1=69.0230 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Writing by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Martin Howell and Peter Graff)