Jun 4, 2016

India's Mathura cult clashes raise disturbing questions

When cops clashed with a cult of 3000 heavily armed men and women at Mathura in the central Indian state of Uttar Pradesh on June 2,  leading to dozens of injuries and the death of 24 people, including two senior and celebrated police officers, it came as a shock. Not just for those in khaki, but also the government — which had been caught napping on the intelligence front.

When the police entered the illegally occupied enclosure of the cult, Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi,  on government horticultural land (Jawahar Bagh) on June 2 — not really to evict the members, but to carry out an assessment — the cops found themselves confronting a hostile mob. The women stood with batons, while the men were perched on tree tops with guns. They began firing and used cooking gas cylinders to set off blasts. The police had to beat a hasty retreat before regrouping  itself and calling for more reinforcements.

Police caught flat-footed

A senior police officer said: “When we entered the cult’s premises around five in the evening, we did not expect such a violent reception … The cult members began firing on us and throwing stones, and it was apparent that they were battle-ready. It was because of this suddenness of the attack that we lost two of our brave officers — Mukul Dwivedi and Santosh Yadav.”

About 360 people were arrested, including 58 on serious charges of homicide and attempt to murder.

Satyagrahi (also known by other names as Swadheen Bharat Vidhik Satyagrahi and  Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena) had been encroaching upon  a large chunk of public property since 2014 or even earlier — virtually turning the place into a mini fortress where a huge amount of arms and ammunition had been stored in what now seems like a battle-ready stance to take on the police. Nobody was allowed anywhere near the enclosure, let alone enter it, and it has now been found that the militant cult had been printing currency notes with the picture of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, an Indian freedom-fighter who died after his plane crashed in Taiwan in 1945. His death has been a subject of intense debate with many refusing to believe that he was killed then.

Satyagrahi has been alleging that the Congress Party conspired with countries like the erstwhile Soviet Union to keep Bose away from India. Some think that he was imprisoned in Siberia. (The recent declassification of Netaji Papers — with the governments in New Delhi and Kolkata (Bose’s birth place) — has not been able to fully dispel public doubts about the leader.)

Teenagers with guns

With “Jai Hind, Jai Subhash” as the motto, Satyagrahi’s leader, Ram Vriksha Yadav — who is missing since June 2 — had assembled a belligerent and highly revolutionary outfit — which brain-washed local teenagers and trained them to handle firearms — in order to replace the present political dispensation with the cult’s own brand of Bose-inspired administration.

Like other such similar cults, not much is known about Satyagrahi. The police have now been able to cull out a few details about Yadav — who is said to be a disciple of a religious godman, Baba Jai Gurudev, who died four years ago. He contested parliamentary elections and lost, and he can be seen in some photographs, flanked by gun-toting followers, holding press conferences and so on.

Yadav succeeded Gurudev after his death, and has been demanding that elections be abolished, and so too the posts of the president and prime minister. He has been saying that one single rupee was strong enough  to buy 60 litres of petrol. (Now you need Rs 75 or so to buy a mere litre.)  He has also been pressing for a new currency modeled on Bose’s Azad Hind Bank notes, and some of them have been seen.

In a YouTube video linked to the Facebook profile, a leader of the cult is seen telling a group of journalists: “The Reserve Bank of India and the government are controlling the rupee and have made the dollar the controller of the rupee. They are going against the law and have taken the sovereignty of India and made it a slave of the dollar.”

Going beyond these demands — which some read as a member-building exercise — the fact that a highly rebellious organisation like Satyagrahi was allowed to stay put on government property for two years is undoubtedly a serious lapse on the part of Uttar Pradesh’s Chief Minister, Akhilesh Yadav. As head of the Samajwadi Party, he took over the reigns of the administration in 2012. He was only 38 then, the youngest ever chief minister of a very important state that can make or mar the electoral prospects of any political party in the parliamentary elections.

An Indian Police Service officer, Amitabh Thakur, said that Akhilesh’s uncle, Shivpal Yadav, a powerful minister in the state cabinet, might have been responsible for the June 2 fiasco.

Thakur, who was reinstated recently after a prolonged suspension as Inspector-General of Police, issued a statement demanding “a high level probe into the role of Shivpal Yadav, particularly as regards his overt and covert support for the criminal outfit that illegally captured the public park.”

Mathura not far from New Delhi

The people of Mathura — considered as a holy city of the Hindus where Lord Krishna is said to have been born —  have also been talking about a close relationship between Shivpal and Ram Vriksha Yadav.

Soon after Akhilesh took over in 2012, it was whispered in the political corridors of Uttar Pradesh that he was a mere puppet in the hands of his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, and uncle, Shivpal.

Admittedly, the young chief minister — who is convent educated and has a degree from Sydney University — has been trying to take a firmer grip over his state administration. He has even admitted that his government officials have been lax about Satyagrahi.

What is equally disturbing is that Mathura is a just 161 km away from India’s capital, and if there has been an intelligence failure in the state, there seems to have been a greater slip-up at the federal level in New Delhi. And in these times of terrorism, such carelessness can be very costly.

Gautaman Bhaskaran is an author, commentator and movie critic, who has worked with The Statesman in Kolkata and The Hindu in Chennai for 35 years. He now writes for the Hindustan Times, the Gulf Times and Seoul Times.





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