A prominent Indian politician has been expelled from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) amid public outrage over a deadly car crash that left a woman who accused him of rape in a critical condition.
Kuldeep Singh Sengar was sacked on Thursday after the BJP came under fire for not taking stern action against the accused legislator from the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
There was no immediate comment by Sengar who is in jail awaiting trial, but he has previously denied the rape allegation.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation said on Wednesday that it was investigating Sengar for possible involvement in Sunday’s car crash, which critically injured his 19-year-old accuser and her lawyer and killed two of her aunts.
Doctors from King George’s Medical University in Uttar Pradesh, where the woman is being treated, said she remained unconscious with a head injury and multiple leg fractures.
Both the driver and the owner of the truck that hit the car she was travelling in have been arrested.
The woman’s family and opposition politicians have alleged that Sunday’s crash was a deliberate attempt on her life by Sengar.
BJP spokesman GVL Narasimha Rao said on Thursday that Sengar had been expelled as the party had a “zero tolerance” policy towards members who faced serious allegations, state-run broadcaster Doordarshan News reported.
“Whatever happened was not right … Whoever does wrong should be thrown out of the party and given punishment. I am happy that my party has taken a proper stand,” Hema Malini, a BJP member of parliament, told reporters.
The party had previously faced criticism for not expelling Sengar, who was arrested over the rape allegations in April.
India’s top court on Thursday moved the rape trial to the capital, New Delhi, to allay fears Sengar could influence the outcome, and ordered Uttar Pradesh to pay 2.5m rupees ($36,172) in compensation to the woman by Friday.
It also ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation to complete its probe into the crash within seven days.
On Tuesday, protesters took to the streets in New Delhi to demand a fast-track probe into the crash.
Carrying placards demanding justice for the woman, dozens of protesters representing women’s organisations accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s BJP of shielding the legislator, and police of delaying his prosecution.
Sengar’s arrest followed nationwide protests which led to the case being handed over to federal police.
This came after the woman tried to set herself on fire outside the official residence of Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath in April last year, saying the police had refused to register her complaint.
Sengar has previously denied the allegations against him. His lawyer, Awadhesh Singh, told Reuters news agency a day after the crash that it was “just an accident”.
However, the woman’s family said on Monday that they feared for their safety and had received threats over the rape case.
“This is not an accident,” the woman’s mother told reporters at the hospital.
“One by one, all the witnesses are being eliminated. We’re afraid for our lives,” said the mother, whose husband died while in police custody last year. He had been severely beaten – allegedly by Sengar’s brother – and later succumbed to his injuries.
One of the aunts killed in the car crash had been a witness in the rape case against Sengar.
The case has shone a spotlight on India’s atrocious record on rape. Nearly 40,000 cases are reported every year, according to official figures.
However, campaigners say the real number is much higher, with victims wary of filing cases because of social stigma and a lack of faith in institutions.
On Monday, a 36-year-old woman died after setting herself on fire in the western city of Jaipur, accusing police of inaction over her rape complaint.