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Madhya Pradesh: 8 cops pay the price for daring to arrest RSS leader

Shahnawaz Malik | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

It's not every day one hears of policemen being booked for serious offences such as robbery, rioting and attempt to murder. But this is the price some cops in Madhya Pradesh's Balaghat are apparently paying for daring to act against the RSS Zila Pracharak Suresh Yadav.

On 26 September, the police brass got an FIR registered against four of its officers and as many constables in their own police station, forcing them to go underground. The booked cops include Balaghat's Additional SP Rajesh Sharma and the Baihar police station in-charge Ziaul Haq.

Under pressure from the RSS, the state government had handed over the case to the CID on 28 September. However, it did not placate top Sangh leaders as they called for a district-wide bandh the following day. The government then ordered the transfer of Balaghat SP Asit Yadav and IG, Balaghat Range, DC Sagar on 2 October.

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At the heart of the controversy is Suresh Yadav, the RSS chief in Balaghat, who was arrested on 25 September for "outraging the feelings of a religious community and spreading enmity between two communities". Although he was soon bailed out, Yadav refused to come out of the Baihar police station. Slowly, a crowd of RSS supporters gathered outside the police station. This, police sources said, emboldened Yadav and he began threatening the cops. It was soon clear that his were not empty threats.

Paying the price

Barely four hours later, a complaint was lodged by Yadav in Baihar police station against ASP Rajesh Sharma, Ziaul Haq, Sub Inspector Anil Ajmeria, Assistant Sub Inspector Suresh Vijaywar and other policemen. By 7 am, yet another FIR was registered against these cops at the behest of Swami Prasad Asati, the owner of a medical store situated near the police station.

Two FIRs within a few hours was enough to prove Yadav's clout, prompting the accused cops to flee the district. By the afternoon, four police officers, four constables and three home guards had received suspension orders.

Soon, the Shivraj Chouhan government was feeling the heat in Bhopal. The Home Minister Bhupendra Singh claimed that the RSS leader was beaten up in the lock up "as the police had failed to identify him".

"We will implement a mechanism to introduce all RSS leaders to the police in their area. The list of these leaders would be given to all police stations. This system will be put in place across the state," the newspaper Nai Dunia quoted Bhupendra Singh as saying.

Spreading communal hatred

Suresh Yadav hails from Chhatarpur district, and was posted by the RSS in Balaghat two years ago. Besides organising RSS shakhas in the region, he's responsible for all major Sangh activities in the district. The police sources said he had posted objectionable messages against Islam on a WhatsApp chat group called 'ONI News Vananchal' on 24 September. Catch has accessed screen shots of the content. The group mostly includes local journalists.

Such "inflammatory content" was being regularly posted on WhatsApp chat groups in the area, infuriating the local Muslims. Nawab Khan, a local youth, decided it was time to act against the "hatemongers" and filed a complaint at the Baihar police station on 25 September.

The sources told Catch that Ziaul Haq "promptly apprised the SP Asit Yadav about the complaint, and keeping the upcoming festivals of Ganesh Chaturthi and Navratri in view, the administration sprang into action".

Asit Yadav ordered immediate action. At around 8 pm that night, ASP Rajesh Sharma led a team comprising Ziaul Haq, Anil Ajmeria, Suresh Vijaywar and four constables arrested Suresh Yadav from his house.

Giving cops the slip

According to one of the officers who was part of the team, the RSS leader managed to flee while they were taking him to the Baihar station, and took refuge inside the Asati Medical Store situated near the police station. The police had to enter the medical store to capture Yadav.

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The officer asked how it was illegal to capture the accused from the medical store when CrPC mandates that any person who escapes from police custody must be arrested from any part of the country. Suresh Yadav's cell phone was confiscated "after the objectionable content was allegedly found stored on it". He was taken into custody after the mandatory medical tests was conducted.

The medical report, accessed by Catch, claims there were bruises and swelling on some of his body parts. He had complained about body pain, including in his private parts. The doctor advised him to consult a specialist. Although there is no mention of fractures or any serious injury in the report, Yadav's right hand is plastered now.

The proceedings for Yadav's arrest continued until after midnight. And at around 3.55 am, a counter FIR was filed on his complaint against the cops involved in his arrest. They were booked for serious offences, including robbery, attempt to murder, threatening to kill, trespassing with malafide intent, arson, abusing and voluntarily causing hurt. Catch has a copy of this FIR.

In his statement, Yadav alleges that he was "beaten to the extent that he lost consciousness". When he regained his senses, his two cell phones, a Sonata watch and Rs 5,000 were missing.

Swami Prasad Asati, the owner of the medical store where Yadav had hid, lodged another FIR against the policemen at around 7 am, accusing them of committing similar offences. Two FIRs within a span of a few hours was enough signal to the policemen that Yadav had connections in high places and that the matter was now out of hands of the SP and even the IG.

Issuing threats

By afternoon, the RSS released a statement demanding the arrest of all the "guilty" policemen. "We expect the administration to act in accordance with the gravity of the incident, or a statewide expression of discontent cannot be ruled out," the statement read. The Sangh did walk its talk, calling a bandh in Balaghat on 29 September. The bandh had a visible effect on routine life in the neighbouring districts as well.

Preliminary investigation makes it clear that Suresh Yadav had circulated inflammatory messages on WhatsApp. How can one not justify the police action when such content on social media has previously created unrest in states such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and even an MP.

One of the absconding police officers told Catch they are scared. "We will not surrender as the RSS is keeping a close eye on the matter and enjoys the full support of the government. We would be jailed immediately," he says. The officer said the accused cops would apply for anticipatory bail. They would, however, have no option but to surrender if their bail plea is rejected.

Sangh infighting the cause?

Senior journalist Updesh Awasthi, who is based out of Madhya Pradesh, believes the whole affair is essentially a "police versus RSS tussle". And the BJP has got involved for political gain. There have been instances of friction between BJP legislators and RSS functionaries in the state. On 30 September, Tendukheda MLA Sanjay Sharma alleged that the state's agriculture minister Gauri Shankar Bisen knew about Yadav's arrest well in advance.

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While the BJP responded by issuing a show cause notice to Sharma, fellow MLA Zalim Singh Patel repeated the accusation on 1 October. "The cops are being made scapegoats in the BJP's internal squabble," Awasthi surmises.

The accused cops, on their part, are confident that the investigation would prove them right.

Media's smear campaign

The local media's coverage of the incident has been far from objective. As Awasthi points out, the media has "only fuelled the sentiment against the police".

The newspaper Blitz Today published a story headlined, "An MP police officer turns out to be a Pak supporter", which claimed that Ziaul Haq had roughed up Suresh Yadav for his comments against Pakistan. "The officer has given proof of being a well wisher of an enemy nation," it wrote.

Raj Express describes Haq as a "Talibani" officer, while another newspaper has demanded the sacking of the policemen responsible for the "attack" on the RSS pracharak.

Communal frenzy against Muslim cop?

Ziaul Haq, 37, is a 2007-cadre officer of the Madhya Pradesh police. He was trained at the Jawaharlal Nehru Academy in Sagar. He was felicitated by Chief Minister Shivarj Singh Chouhan for exemplary performance during his training. In fact, it was due to his stellar record that he was promoted from sub inspector to police station in charge.

All this has not saved Haq from being targeted as a "Pakistani" and a "Talibani" in the media. Several of his Haq's batchmates have protested against this smear campaign by blackening their Facebook profiles. Some of them have even used Haq's picture on their social media profiles. "Ziaul Haq acted against a person accused of spreading communal hatred. However, he has himself become a victim of the same vilification which has forced him to go underground," says one of Haq's colleagues.

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First published: 3 October 2016, 7:12 IST