Losing the plot: two months later, Khattar govt blunders on over #JatStir
The Manohar Lal Khattar regime is under renewed siege over the issue of mass arson and violence during the Jat agitation in February.
The BJP government continues to take a beating as fresh details about the violence unravel in courts and elsewhere, and political and social activists lambast it for failing to take timely action to contain the mayhem.
In the latest development, the police have finally added the charge of gang rape to the FIR pertaining to the alleged sexual assault of several women in the fields near Murthal during the agitation. This came after the Punjab and Haryana High Court pulled up the police for its investigation in the case. The court had taken suo motu cognizance of the incident after it was reported in the media even though the police had denied it ever happened.
The police was apparently compelled to add the charge of gang rape after a student from Faridabad confirmed the assault in an anonymous letter, as did an NRI woman. However, IG Mamta Singh, who is heading the investigation, told the high court that none of the alleged victims have so far approached the police directly.
The police's move followed the Khattar government's announcement of a commission under retired Justice SN Jha to inquire the "sequence of events leading to, and all facts and circumstances relating to, the occurrence of violence leading to loss of lives, damage to properties, both private and public including roads, canals, railway stations, police stations and illegal felling of trees and violation of human rights from February 18 to 23 in Rohtak, Jhajjar, Sonepat, Jind, Hisar, Kaithal and Bhiwani".
The commission's appointment itself was the result of sustained pressure from the opposition INLD and the Congress as well as civil society groups.
Khattar had initially appointed an inquiry committee under former Uttar Pradesh police chief Prakash Singh to look into the incidents of violence during the Jat agitation. Observers, however, quickly pointed out that this panel had "no locus standi as it was not set up under the Commissions of Inquiry Act, 1952 and is only looking into acts of omission and commission by government servants". In fact, even the high court had reportedly raised questions over its statutory status. Now, the question is being raised whether the mandates of the two panels overlap.
State of confusion
"All these developments just show the indecisiveness and lack of clarity on the part of the government, which is tarnishing its image. The government could have set up the judicial probe panel right after the violence subsided. Similarly, the police should have been open to investigating the mass rapes instead of being in a denial mode and waiting for the court's direction. There is no point in adopting a dilly-dallying approach and later adhering to the logical demands under pressure. It just creates a poor picture," argued the political commentator Gurmeet Singh.
Another commentator Balwant Takshak said, "So many probe panels add to the confusion and show the government in a poor light. There are magisterial probes, there is an SIT on Murthal gang rape, there's the Prakash Singh panel and now SN Jha. The government must reflect a uniformity in its approach."
If this was not enough trouble for the government, the District and Sessions Judge of Rohtak has accused it of failing to provide security to even judicial officers. In a report to the high court, the judge has described how the judicial officers were forced to flee on motorcycles and take refuge in villages. They even had to remove their name tags lest the agitators caught them. The state administration, the report damningly concludes, "stood paralysed in the face of the agitation".
The Jat agitation, unleashed to press the demand for reservation in public jobs and educational institutions, left at least 30 people dead and property worth thousands of crores in ruins. The Haryana police has lodged 2,110 FIRs in connection with the violence and arrested 567 persons so far.
Healing the wounds?
Meanwhile, in a related development, Haryana is witnessing a race among the major political parties to organise Sadbhavna programmes, ostensibly to bring Jats and non-Jat communities together. The violence in February has left the state's social fabric in tatters.
However, both the BJP and the Congress have failed to get all their troops behind these programmes.
The BJP has been unsuccessful in getting its Kurukshetra MP Raj Kumar Saini to appeal for harmony. He continues to speak harshly against the Jats, most recently alleging that their agitation was funded by black money from abroad. His provocative statements in the run up to the stir had come under criticism from various quarters, and the government's failure to rein him has been listed as a major reason that led to the violence spiralling out of control.
The Congress has seen internal differences come to the fore as a result of its Sadbhavna campaign launched on 6 April, with factions owing allegiance to Ashok Tanwar and Bhupinder Singh Hooda holding separate programmes.