Stoking a controversy, SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav today questioned the death penalty for rape, saying "mistakes" by boys happen sometimes, sparking outrage among rival parties and women's groups.
The former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister also said there was a need to change the new anti-rape law so that those misusing it are punished. The legislation was invoked by a Mumbai court for the first time recently to sentence three repeat rape offenders to death.
The remarks coming in the midst of a high voltage Lok Sabha poll campaign were condemned as "insensitive and unfortunate." There was also a demand for Yadav's arrest.
Questioning the death sentence to three men who were convicted of two gang-rapes in Mumbai last week, Mulayam asked, "Should rape cases be punished with hanging?
"Ladke, ladke hain. Galti ho jati hai (Boys are boys. Mistakes happen sometimes)," he told an election rally in Moradabad.
The SP chief further said he will support provision for legal action against those who misuse the rape act.
"Efforts will be made to change the law, so that those misusing it are punished. Those filing false reports will also be taken to task. After the Nirbhaya incident, people started to get worried," he said.
Yadav said boys and girls fall in love but due to differences they fall apart later on. "When their friendship ends, the girl complains she has been raped," he said, stressing the need for changes in the anti-rape law.
"It is unfortunate that any leader makes such a statement regarding a crime like rape. Such statements encourage persons involved in such crimes," Congress spokesperson Shobha Oza told reporters in Delhi.
BJP leader Subramanian Swamy said the comment smacked of Yadav playing "minority politics" in the backdrop of recent Muzaffarnagar riots in which many women were allegedly raped.
"Mulayam Singh Yadav must have thought of playing minority politics in Nirbhaya case also," he said.
Social activist Kiran Bedi said, "These statements call for total boycott of such a political leader. People should be asked to vote out such people completely."
"This statement is against the society and it is spreading lawlessness," she said.
Another activist Ranjana Kumari demanded Yadav's arrest in the light of these remarks.
She said the EC should take cognisance of it and an FIR must be lodged against him for making such a statement as "calling rape a small mistake is directly encouraging rape."
Former Chairman of National Commission for Women Poornima Advani said, "Public apology is the least. The Election Commission should take up this matter. This is a negative and useless election stunt which is going to hit him hard. And, I am sure he will be voted out."