Absconding India MP to return to face sex abuse cases

An Indian lawmaker who fled the country after being accused of sexual assault is set to return this week, more than a month after thousands of USB sticks with videos of the alleged abuse were circulated in his home state.

Prajwal Revanna, an MP from Hassan district in Karnataka who is seeking re-election, had left India on 27 April using his diplomatic passport after the videos went viral.

This week, he posted a video from an undisclosed location, saying he would return to India on 31 May to appear before a police team investigating the charges.

He has denied the allegations of rape and sexual abuse, terming them a “political conspiracy”.

Mr Revanna belongs to an influential political family – he is the grandson of former Indian prime minister HD Deve Gowda, who is the leader of the state’s politically powerful Vokkaliga community. His Janata Dal (Secular), or JD (S) party, is an ally of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Prajwal Revanna’s father HD Revanna and uncle HD Kumaraswamy are both influential legislators in the Karnataka state assembly.

HD Revanna is also accused of sexual harassment and criminal intimidation in the police complaint lodged by a former employee of the family. He was arrested for six days but freed on bail last month. He has also denied the allegations, calling them a political conspiracy.

Getty Images HD Deve Gowda during a press conference at Karnataka Bhawan, on June 28, 2018Getty Images
MP Prajwal Revanna is the grandson of former prime minister HD Deve Gowda

In the past month while Mr Revanna was absent, fear and disquiet have gripped Hassan, which has been a stronghold of his family for decades.

“It is too embarrassing to speak about what happened here,” a young shopkeeper in the district told the BBC.

Roopa Hassan, a women’s rights activist working in the state, says a lot of families have left the district over the past month.

“Many haven’t come out of their houses for weeks,” she said.

The allegations against Mr Revanna first came to light in June last year, but he obtained a court order preventing media from reporting what was described as “morphed videos”. But five days before the 26 April election in Hassan, thousands of pen drives were circulated in public places such as bus stands and parks.

They contained 2,960 clips, which reports say were shot by Mr Revanna himself, and showed the faces of the women.

On 28 April, one of the survivors lodged a police complaint, accusing Mr Revanna of raping her between 1 January 2021 and 25 April 2024 in his official government bungalow.

She alleged that the politician had recorded the assault on his phone and used it to blackmail her and that he threatened her and her husband with a gun if she did not “obey” him. Mr Revanna did not address any of these direct allegations in his video.

The couple, who said they had been “loyal” JD(S) party workers for decades, have alleged that they were forced to leave Hassan since their police complaint.

The state government formed a special investigation team to look into the charges against Mr Revanna after another woman approached the women’s commission with similar accusations.

Since then, police have received two more complaints of rape against the MP.

On 1 May, Mr Revanna’s lawyer told the SIT that he would not be able to participate in the inquiry since he was not in the country.

In a social media post the same day, Mr Revanna also sought a week’s time to appear before investigators, saying that the “truth will prevail soon”. But he didn’t return to India in a week.

HD Deve Gowda's X account Mr Revanna (extreme right) seen meeting PM Modi (centre top) with former prime minister HD Deve Gowda (centre bottom), and party chief HD Kumaraswamy (second right)HD Deve Gowda’s X account
Mr Deve Gowda’s (seated) party is in alliance with PM Modi’s (middle of the top row) BJP. Prajwal Revanna is standing at the right

In May, the state government wrote to the federal foreign ministry twice, asking it to cancel Mr Revanna’s diplomatic passport. Foreign Minister S Jaishankar responded saying the request had been received late and that action was initiated on the request on 23 May.

The case has sparked a political storm in Karnataka with the state’s governing Congress party and the opposition blaming each other over who should have taken action against Mr Revanna when the videos surfaced.

A state minister accused the BJP of fielding Mr Revanna for the election despite knowing that “hundreds of women had been abused by the candidate”. Some reports said that the BJP’s state leaders had warned party leaders in Delhi about Mr Revanna’s alleged misconduct.

Getty Images Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate shows a photograph featuring JD(S) MP Prajwal Revanna (L) who was summoned for alleged sexual abuse case, at a press conference in Bengaluru on May 1, 2024Getty Images
Mr Revanna’s case sparked a political storm in Karnataka

Meanwhile, in Hassan, people remain reluctant to discuss the case, with two female students called it “disgusting”.

“Boys in our college are talking about it. But we feel repulsed and don’t even want to listen to what happened,” one of them said.

“People switch off their TV sets now because they only show this shameful episode,” a resident who did not want to be named said. “We are sick of this. This has given the district such a bad name.”

Mr Gowda and Mr Kumaraswamy have distanced themselves from the controversy and made several public appeals for Prajwal Revanna to return to the country.

Last week, Mr Kumaraswamy apologised to party workers on behalf of the family.

“Be assured that I shall do everything possible to fight for your cause,” he said.

But a senior JD(S) worker, who wanted to stay anonymous, told the BBC that party workers were “depressed and upset’’ over the allegations.

“We were all like an extended family of Mr Deve Gowda,” she said.

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