The Pulse

BJP’s Endorsement of Accused Sexual Predator Prajwal Revanna Is Not Surprising

Recent Features

The Pulse | Politics | South Asia

BJP’s Endorsement of Accused Sexual Predator Prajwal Revanna Is Not Surprising

The party has a history of condoning rape and sexual harassment for the sake of power and political expediency.

BJP’s Endorsement of Accused Sexual Predator Prajwal Revanna Is Not Surprising

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with former Prime Minister and Janata Dal-Secular chief Deve Gowda and JD-S candidate Prajwal Revanna (extreme right) at an election rally in Hassan, India, April 14, 2024.

Credit: X/Prajwal Revanna

Thousands of video clips of Prajwal Revanna sexually assaulting multiple women have triggered outrage and kicked up a political storm amid the ongoing Indian general elections.

A sitting member of parliament of the Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S), Prajwal is the joint candidate of the JD-S and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Karnataka’s Hassan constituency, which voted on April 26.

The videos are recordings of many instances of what seems to be non-consensual sex that Prajwal engaged in with multiple women. Prajwal is said to have recorded the encounters without the consent of the women.

Prajwal belongs to Karnataka’s politically powerful Gowda family. He is the grandson of former Prime Minister and JD-S patriarch H.D. Deve Gowda; the son of H.D. Revanna, a legislator in the Karnataka state assembly; and the nephew of former Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy, who is the BJP-JDS candidate from Mandya.

There was some talk, albeit only in whispers, about Prajwal’s sexual assault of women, including government officials, party workers, and domestic help, and his recording of these encounters to blackmail the victims. In June 2023,  Prajwal got a Bengaluru civil court to issue a gag order on the media to prevent discussion of what he described as “morphed photographs/ videos.”

However, pen drives with over 2,900 video clips of Prajwal sexually assaulting around 400 women were circulated days before Hassan voted on April 26. All hell broke loose thereafter.

Several of Prajwal’s victims went to the police, and charges of sexual assault have been filed against him. To limit damage to the party, the JD-S has suspended him. The Karnataka government formed a Special Investigation Team to probe the charges. Meanwhile, Prajwal is said to have fled the country.

Political parties are hurling accusations at each other. While the JD-S and the BJP have accused the Congress, which rules Karnataka, of distributing the videos for electoral gain, the Congress has slammed the BJP for endorsing Prajwal’s candidacy.

Accusing Prajwal of “mass rape,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi sought an apology from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for personally campaigning for Prajwal. “He [Modi] was aware of what Prajwal did,” yet, he ”solicited votes for a mass rapist,” Gandhi said, accusing the BJP of being “ready to form alliances and do anything for power.”

Indeed, the BJP knew about Prajwal and the sexual assault videos. A former disgruntled driver of Prajwal said that he passed on the videos to BJP leader Devaraje Gowda, who in turn informed B.Y. Vijayendra, president of the BJP’s Karnataka unit, in a letter dated December 8, 2023, about the “grave allegations” against Prajwal.

The BJP “will be tainted as a party that aligned with the family of a rapist. This will be a big blow to the image of our party nationally,” Gowda warned.

Yet the BJP not only agreed to the JD-S fielding Prajwal, but also leaders like Modi campaigned for Prajwal at public rallies.

Its lust for power underlay the BJP’s endorsement of Prajwal. It needed an alliance with the JD-S to win the votes of Vokkaligas in south Karnataka to be able to put up a strong challenge to the Congress. The BJP had sealed a seat-sharing deal in September 2023 and the deal’s survival was important to the BJP.

With 14 constituencies in Karnataka due to vote on May 7 and the Prajwal video clips triggering outrage in the state, Home Minister Amit Shah said at a public rally that “BJP cannot remain with those who commit atrocities against women.”

Its past record tells a different story.

In August 2022, the 11 Hindutva activists who were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2002 gang-rape of Bilkis Bano, and the murder of several of her family members, were released after serving only 14 years in jail. When the 11 rapists walked out of jail, Hindutva activists garlanded and celebrated their release. It came to light subsequently that Shah’s Home Ministry had approved their premature release, and the decision was made to win the votes of hardcore Hindutva supporters in the Gujarat state assembly elections in December that year.

More recently, the BJP has robustly supported Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, its MP and president of the Wrestling Foundation of India (WFI), who was accused by several of India’s top women wrestlers, including a minor, of sexual harassment.  Not a single BJP leader, including the prime minister or even Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani, condemned his conduct or even took note of the women’s concerns.

When Singh eventually stepped down as WFI chief, he was replaced by a close associate. And now the BJP has fielded his son as the party’s election candidate from the Kaiserjang constituency in Uttar Pradesh. Not only has the BJP shielded Singh but also it has acted to ensure he retains his clout as the party has benefited from it. Singh has enormous power across several constituencies in Uttar Pradesh.

The BJP’s endorsement of Prajwal, therefore, does not come as a surprise.

However, the BJP is not alone in this regard.

Early this year, the women of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal rose in protest against sexual violence, oppression, land grabbing, and harassment by the local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Sheikh Shahjahan and his associates. Forty cases were reportedly pending against Shahjahan over the past four years, but the ruling TMC took no action against him. Only when central officials arrested Shahjahan did the TMC suspend him for six years.

According to an August 2023 report by the Association of Democratic Reforms, while the BJP had 44 members of parliament and state assemblies with cases of “crimes against women” registered against them, the Congress had 25 such legislators, followed by the Aam Aadmi Party with 13.

Since electability and not their capacity to serve society or govern efficiently determines who is fielded in elections, parties prefer to back persons who wield clout and can win votes, never mind their criminal record.

Amid the ongoing war of words between parties on the Prajwal Revanna case, the plight of his victims has gained little attention.

Whoever released the video clips into the public domain did not blur the faces of the women. Not only were they repeatedly assaulted by Prajwal, but now they will be stigmatized by society.