A high-octane Lok Sabha election campaign, a historic Supreme Court judgment settling the decades-old Ayodhya dispute and violent protests over the amended citizenship law – it was an eventful year for Uttar Pradesh. Rape accusations against saffron-robed former Union minister Swami Chinmayanand and a life sentence for expelled BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar for the 2017 rape of a minor in Unnao brought the law and order situation in the state into sharp focus.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party swept Uttar Pradesh again in the Lok Sabha elections, pushing aside the Congress and the SP-BSP-RLD ‘mahagathbandhan’. Despite an aggressive campaign, followed with interest all over the country, UP’s opposition alliance could not make much of a dent. It won just 15 of the 80 parliamentary seats – Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party got 10 and the Samajwadi Party five.
The BJP won 62 seats, down from 71 earlier, but increased its vote share from 42.63 per cent in 2014 to 49.6 per cent. The SP-BSP vote share dropped from 42.2 per cent in the last Lok Sabha polls to 37.3 per cent. The Congress managed to win just one seat – its Raebareli bastion — despite Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s appointment as the party general secretary in charge of eastern UP and her extensive campaign across the state. The biggest jolt came for the then Congress president Rahul Gandhi who lost his own Amethi stronghold.
In November, a five-judge Supreme Court bench pronounced verdict on the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute in Ayodhya, allowing the construction of a temple at the contested site by a trust. The Constitution bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi also directed the Centre to allot an alternative five-acre plot to the Sunni Waqf Board for building a new mosque at a “prominent” place in the holy town.
Later, the Supreme Court closed the doors on any further review of its 5-0 verdict, one of the most anticipated judgements in India’s history. In a case that triggered outrage and Supreme Court intervention, a 23-year-old law student accused former BJP MP Swami Chinmayanand of sexual abuse and rape. A month later, after multiple twists and turns, Chinmayanand (72), who ran the trust that owned the college where the woman studied, was arrested. He was accused of misusing his authority for sexual intercourse, a charge short of rape.
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The student was also arrested, on charges of extortion after the politician alleged that she was part of a conspiracy to extort money from him. Apart from the Sengar episode, Unnao made news when a woman was set ablaze by five men, two of them accused earlier of raping her. She died later in Delhi. The opposition kept targeting the Yogi Adityanath government over “rising” crime in the state, a charge trashed by it. The BJP government claimed there has not been a single communal riot during its tenure.
Another episode that provoked outrage was the gunning down of 10 Gond tribals in Sonbhadra’s Umbha village. They were allegedly attacked by a village head and his henchmen in an attempt to grab land. About 30 others were injured. As the year drew to a close, violent protests broke out over the Citizenship Amendment Act, first at the Aligarh University Campus and a few days later in several districts after Friday prayers. Police countered brickbats and arson with tear gas, rubber bullets and, in later admissions, by firing in “self-defence”.
About 20 people were killed during the protests, many of them due to firearm injuries. Human rights activists, however, allege a brutal police crackdown that targeted even those not involved in the protests. Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi visited the state and the party has called for a judicial probe. Midday meals served at schools also attracted controversy.
A video showed students at a school in Mirzapur being served just rotis and salt for their midday meal. Police initially booked the journalist who broke the story. Weeks later, a the staff at a primary school in Sonbhadra district was accused of diluting a litre of milk with a bucket of water to serve 80 children. The bad press drowned out some feel-good stories from the state – like the staging of a Kumbh Mela that went off without a hitch and a groundbreaking ceremony for new projects, which the government claimed reflected a planned investment of Rs 65,000 crore.
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Source: Financial Express