There was confusion in the ruling BJP on Thursday over Kuldeep Singh Sengar's status hours after news emerged that the jailed four-time lawmaker accused of raping the Unnao teen survivor, threatening her family and attempt to murder, had been expelled by the BJP amid waves of public outrage.
Sources say the ruling party finally cut its losses feeling that the incident "was bringing a bad name to the party and damaging its reputation".
The message from Delhi apparently missed the party's UP chief, the only BJP leader to come on record on Kuldeep Sengar.
"Kuldeep Sengar remains suspended," said the BJP's Uttar Pradesh Chief Swatantra Dev Singh told reporters. However, in the evening, he clarified that Sengar had indeed been expelled.
"Expelling someone is not in the domain of state presidents. It is the central leadership's prerogative. In Kanpur when I said he is suspended, I had no knowledge of the centre leadership decision. As of now, Sengar is expelled," he said.
The BJP's move, described by critics as a year in coming, comes days after the Unnao rape survivor and her lawyer were critically wounded and two of her relatives were killed in a car crash on Sunday involving a speeding truck that had its number plate painted black. The girl is still critical and on the ventilator, a hospital said on Thursday in its latest update.
The girl's family has accused Sengar of plotting the crash, which is being investigated by the CBI.
The BJP was repeatedly confronted with questions about its apparent sloth in acting against the lawmaker. Sources say after the party suspended Sengar last year, it waited for "the law to take its own course".
Ultimately, the decision came from BJP chief Amit Shah and working president JP Nadda, sources say. "The onus of proving his innocence is on Sengar," they told NDTV.
The police complaint accusing Sengar of a role in the car crash reportedly led to a rethink in the party; its top leaders believed the BJP should not be seen defending a lawmaker accused of murder besides rape.
The Unnao rape case became a saga of police callousness, administrative neglect and the harassment of a young girl and her helpless family by a politician who seemed to enjoy leniency at every step. Despite sharp criticism, the ruling party acted only a year after his arrest for rape.
Earlier this week, when the case returned to the media glare after the road accident, the BJP had claimed that Kuldeep Sengar had been suspended, but had refused to say when this step was taken.
The expulsion announcement emerged hours after severe embarrassment in the Supreme Court for the party's government in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday.
The court said four cases linked to the Unnao rape survivor would be transferred out of Uttar Pradesh to Delhi, which was interpreted by many as validation of the fears of her family, which had written to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi alleging threats from the lawmaker.
The court also asked for a progress report from the CBI on the rape case that has not moved in over a year and ordered that the investigation into the car accident be completed in seven days.
The girl has accused Sengar and his aides of raping her repeatedly when she went to his home for a job in 2017.
Her complaint was registered by the police only after she went public last year, staging a protest outside Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath's Lucknow home and threatening to set herself on fire if she was not heard.
She took the desperate step after her father was thrashed by Sengar's brother and, in a badly wounded state, taken to jail instead of hospital and charged.
The day after her protest at the chief minister's home, her father died in custody.
This morning, Uttar Pradesh's Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma had claimed that the party and the government had "done its job" on the case.
"We did our best, the government took its responsibility seriously. An FIR was filed against the accused and the CBI is also probing," said Dinesh Sharma.