Officials say they have found the body of Bhanwari Devi, a 36-year-old nurse who went missing after trying to blackmail two senior members of the ruling Congress party.
Indian temptress found dead; two politicians behind bars
NEW DELHI // It has all the trappings of a Bollywood thriller - a nurse is kidnapped, a sex scandal surfaces, body parts are found in a canal, and two politicians end up behind bars.
The state of Rajasthan has been gripped in recent months by the story of Bhanwari Devi, a 36-year-old nurse who went missing after trying to blackmail two senior members of the ruling Congress party.
Last week, the Central Bureau of Investigation confirmed her death after a search of the Rajiv Gandhi canal in Jodhpur found bone fragments - apparently all that was left after Devi's corpse was burnt.
The fragments have yet to be confirmed by forensic testing, but the divers also unearthed a wrist watch, a ring and a locket that were identified by her sons.
A wrist watch crops up in another part of the sordid tale. Rumours had been circulating for more than a year of a video-CD showing then-water resources minister Mahipal Maderna, 59, wearing nothing else as he put himself in some compromising positions with Devi.
In a taped telephone conversation that emerged in November, quoted in India Today, Devi is heard saying: "Both the CDs are in a locker at a bank in Ajmer. I will give you the code. If anything happens to me, take the CD out."
By the time the tape surfaced, something had already happened to her. But it was not until this week, when one of the main suspects, Kailash Jakhar, confessed to disposing of her body, that police began framing murder charges.
Mr Maderna was arrested in December, having already been sacked from the cabinet two months previously as the scandal gathered momentum.
According to a report in the DNA newspaper, citing unnamed police sources, Devi is thought to have demanded Rs 5 million (Dh356,413) from Mr Maderna to stop her from releasing the CD.
She reportedly also threatened another Congress politician, legislative assembly member Malkhan Singh, who she claimed was the father of her youngest child. She said she would announce their affair at a community event in his home town of Bishnoi on September 7.
Mr Singh was arrested last month, along with his cousin Sohanlal Singh, and two others, who police accuse of the kidnapping and murder. The police are seeking four more suspects, including Malkhan Singh's wife, Indira.
Devi's husband, Amarchand, is also behind bars, having allegedly co-operated with Malkhan Singh to keep his wife silent. The CBI has accused him of taking a Rs 10 million pay-off from Malkhan Singh and agreeing to bring his wife to a secluded spot in the city of Bhilwara on the day she went missing.
Call records have established that Mr Maderna was in close contact with one of the arrested suspects, Sahiram Bishnoi, throughout this period.
A report in the Indian Express on Friday said the police had evidence that Mr Maderna placed at least 27 calls to Sohanlal and Sahiram in the 10 days leading up to the kidnapping, and that Mr Sohanlal had phoned the victim at least 12 times during that period.
Further calls were made between Mr Maderna and Mr Sahiram in the days after Devi's disappearance. Mr Maderna reportedly used the phones of his household staff and drivers in a bid to avoid detection.
The CBI are expected to finalise charges by the end of the month. Leaked reports claim that Devi was strangled and beaten with a bat, before her body was burnt and thrown in the canal.
For her three children, the trauma of losing their mother is compounded by the arrest of their father and media reports that present Devi as a promiscuous temptress.
Seven-year-old Suhani is also awaiting the results of a blood test that will determine whether her true father is one of the jailed politicians.
Having initially had the support of their local community and protection from the police, the family has been shunned since the arrest of Amarchand, and the two older children have dropped out of their studies to escape the taunts of their peers.
"The police left after my father was arrested, and so did the supporters," the eldest, Sahil, 18, told the Indian Express. "They said ours was a tainted family, and that they wanted no part of it. We have relatives in this village, but they are too scared to come home."
For the government of chief minister Ashok Gehlot, the episode is deeply embarrassing, and may have lasting political repercussions.
As well as the taint of the scandal, there is also a caste dimension - something which often matters more in Rajasthan than good behaviour. Devi was from a lower caste of potters while Mr Maderna was an influential leader of the Jat caste. Members of that community have already painted his arrest as part of a malicious campaign by the Congress leadership against the Jats.