Political Murmurs Around the Pursuit of Congress Leader B.V. Srinivas by Assam Police

The Congress has expelled the complainant who had alleged harassment. The opposition party sees it as a purely political case, but Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma says he is only doing his job.

New Delhi: In Assam, the complaint by a junior Congress leader against a more influential one has been playing out with significant political attention – both from political leaders and on social media.

The state police acted quickly when early this week, it handed over a notice to the national president of the Youth Congress, Srinivas B.V., at his Bengaluru residence in a case of alleged harassment due to gender of a party colleague.

Assam chief minister and BJP leader Himanta Biswa Sarma said that he was acting as per law based on a complaint filed by a young Assamese Congress worker, Angkita Dutta, who till earlier this week was the state president of the Youth Congress (YC). Criticising the All India Congress Committee for “poor handling” of the issue, Sarma said if the issue lingered, state CID would step in.

Based on an FIR lodged by Dutta at the Dispur police station of Guwahati on April 21, Srinivas was issued a notice by Moitrayee Deka, additional deputy commissioner of police (East Guwahati), on April 23. As per the notice tweeted by Sarma, who is also the state home minister, the case registered against Srinivas was under sections 509 (insulting modesty of a woman); 294 (utters any obscene word); 341 (wrongfully restrains a person); 352 (assaults or uses criminal force to any person); 354-a –iv (makes sexually coloured remarks); 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code and section 67 (transmits any material which contains sexually explicit act or conduct) of the Information Technology Act. The notice asked Srinivas to present himself at the Dispur police station on May 2, failing which he would face arrest.

On April 21, Dutta had recorded her statement in front of a magistrate in Guwahati.

Srinivas has not spoken to the media on the matter so far but soon after the noticed was served on him, he took to Twitter to say, “Over the past five days, at the behest of the CM of Assam, a fake case was filed to stop me from campaigning in Karnataka. But the Olympians of the country have been accusing the BJP MP of harassment for months. Where is the FIR? Where are the BJP ministers and agent organisations?”

Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala told journalists on April 23 in New Delhi that “the turncoat chief minister of Assam who is trying to outbid Amit Shah to his post has now become infamous for his antics to stay in news…we reject this propaganda completely. Sometimes he wants to arrest Pawan Khera, sometimes he wants to arrest B V Srinivas. Perhaps it is to save the ignominy that Mr Modi was trying to arrest him once for Saradha scam and Louis Berger scam. That is why he defected to BJP.”

Sarma said that his police force “is acting in accordance with the law”. “It is unfair to blame me for the lack of safe environment within the Congress party for female workers. Please advice the accused to cooperate with the legal process,” he tweeted.

Surjewala’s remarks came a day after the Congress expelled Dutta from the party for six years, accusing her of indulging in “anti-party activities”. Assam Pradesh Congress Committee (APCC) president Bhupen Borah told the media in Guwahati that she was issued a show cause notice on the matter but the party’s disciplinary committee was not satisfied with her reply and, therefore, decided to expel her. Soon after Dutta was expelled, Sarma told local media that his police force would now act to ensure Dutta gets “justice”.

Dutta denies rumours she is jumping ship

Since the time the controversy raised its head in Assam, there have been allegations against the complainant, daughter of the now deceased former state Congress chief Anjan Dutta, from within the Congress that she had been in touch with Sarma to cross over to the BJP.  This allegation also found a mention in the legal notice served to her by Youth Congress national secretary Vardhan Yadav.

At a press meet held in Guwahati on April 24, the expelled Congress leader vehemently denied the speculation. “Like I said in the press conference yesterday, I would not go to BJP. Four generations of my family have been in Congress. I would like to go back to Congress,” Dutta told The Wire on April 25. “Some days ago, I went to meet the chief minister on behalf of a foundation that I am part of. It is in memory of my father; we have done a series of awareness camps on mental health in rural Assam and had met him to hand over our booklet on how to raise awareness and also a report on our workshops. My party (Congress) has been citing that meeting to claim I am moving to the BJP.”

Local media is going as far as to quote “highly placed sources” to carry speculation about the BJP wanting to pit Dutta against Congress leader Debabrat Saikia from the Nazira constituency in the next elections. The reason cited is, the Amguri constituency which Dutta has been contesting from since her father’s demise may no longer exist after the delimitation exercise in Assam.

Dutta denies this, giving an example of her loyalty to the Congress: “When Sarma had questioned Rahul Gandhi’s paternity during his campaign for the BJP in the Uttarakhand assembly polls in 2022, I took on him directly, climbed a platform to blacken the face of the chief minister in a hoarding.”

Karnataka the spur?

Though Srinivas had claimed in his tweet that the police action by the Assam government was to keep him away from campaigning for the Congress, which is mounting a formidable fight against the BJP, in Karnataka, Sarma stayed away from the matter in his campaign in the state. He is one of the BJP’s star campaigners for the Karnataka polls. There is speculation that the BJP’s silence and the government’s inaction on serious charges against MP Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh may have put the BJP on the backfoot on this case.

Role of the National Commission for Women

Meanwhile, the National Commission for Women (NCW) was seen to be proactive on the Assam matter, leading the state CID to lodge a separate complaint against Srinivas. He was summoned at once but he didn’t adhere to the summons, citing health reasons. The NCW, which took suo moto cognisance of the Srinivas case, is curiously quiet till now on the allegations of sexual harassment by several women wrestlers against the BJP MP.

What the complainant says

The complainant Dutta told The Wire, “Yes, the case has been politicised. Sarma being a sharp politician will try and use it to his advantage but I had expected my party to take it up. My problem is not with my party but with one individual. I should have been heard.”

Dutta also said, “I may well be putting my political career at risk but it is to highlight my harassment as a woman. I have nothing against Congress; I would like to go back to my party. I am only questioning one man within the party.”

Taking to Twitter on April 22, she had also said she was “aware this could lead to an end of my political career. If this is the price I have to pay, so be it. About me meeting some BJP leader, one is welcome to check CCTV footage of (my) home and office where you will probably see me reading trolls (sic) my colleagues (at the Congress) are spreading.”

Gauhati high court order

Meanwhile, Srinivas had moved the Gauhati high court seeking quashing of the FIR filed by Dutta and an interim direction to the state police to refrain from coercive action. Hearing the plea on April 26, the high court refused to put a stay on the FIR, stating that a perusal of the case diary would be necessary before considering it. The matter has been listed for May 2, the day he has been asked by the state police to present himself at the Dispur court, failing which he would be “liable to arrest”.