#ArunaRoyYatra attack exposes Vasundhara Raje's doublespeak
Vasundhara Raje has made a virtue of promising public accountability. But on 16 January, the Rajasthan chief minister's own partymen made a mockery of that pledge, that too in her home district.
That afternoon, activists of a rights group were marching through Jhalawar, demanding the promised accountability. But a mob led by the BJP legislator Kanwar Lal Meena descended on the marchers and brutally beat them up.
The video of the attack has gone viral, leaving the chief minister red-faced as Jhalawar is the constituency of her son Dushyant Singh.
The Soochna Evam Rozgar Manch, which is led by award-winning activists Aruna Roy and Nikhil Dey, was conducting a march through Jhalawar as part of their 'Jawabdehi Yatra'.
The yatra was launched on 1 December "to make people aware about government accountability". It's planned to "apprise" the people through puppet shows, street plays and songs of the "various mechanisms that are available to seek redress from the government". The drive will cover 14 districts and continue until 9 March.
At about 4.30 pm, the activists reached Teen Batti square of Aklera town. They were singing songs and making speeches when three men with lathis attacked them. The activists, however, managed, to repulse the attack and carried on.
They had barely gone a few hundred meters when a mob of more than 40 people attacked them with sticks and stones. The video of the attack clearly shows Meena, dressed in an orange shirt, leading the mob with a stick in his hand.
Meena is seen going around smashing cars and hitting Shankar Singh Rawat, a member of the farmers' group Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, which is part of the yatra.
"They broke the windshields of our vehicles. Even women were not spared. The police constables at the spot stood by watching. When we asked them to arrest the attackers, they said, 'we know who they are and will take action later'," says Kamal Tank, an activist who was part of the march.
Meena, however, insists that he went to the spot to "protect the activists". "I got a call about a mob hitting NGO activists. I went to see who was beating these people. The mob was beating them with sticks. I snatched the sticks to stop them. I was there to mediate between the two sides," he claims.
The activists have claimed the incident left at least 12 of them injured.
The District Magistrate Vishnu Charan Malik and the Superintendent of Police Rajendra Singh rushed to the spot after hearing about the incident.
Following a complaint by Rawat, the police registered a case against four people - Suraj, Beeram, Ram Vilas and Lal Chand, all residents of Aklera and 20-22 years old.
However, the FIR doesn't name Meena despite Rawat listing him as an accused in his complaint. According to The Indian Express, the FIR only mentions an "MLA" four times.
The activists allege that the police "tampered with the complaint, adding the word 'former' wherever 'MLA' was mentioned". The police have claimed that Meena's involvement is still a "matter of investigation".
Malik, the magistrate, meanwhile, has assured "positive action on the complaint", and formed a committee to investigate the matter. "The NGO workers claim they have a video showing MLA Kanwar Lal Meena taking part in the attack. We will use it as an evidence in our investigations, if the video is provided to us," Malik says.
The activists, however, are far from satisfied. They demand that the police name Meena in the FIR.
"This is a campaign for public accountability. The perpetrators of the attack must be immediately arrested. Any delay in this regard would be a failure on part of the state government," insists Aruna Roy.
A delegation from Jawabdehi Yatra, including Roy, Dey and PUCL's Kavita Srivastava, visited Jhalawar Sunday and met magistrate Malik as well as SP Rajendra Singh.
According to Dey, the delegation shared the "video footage of the attack with them".
"We want strict action taken against the MLA. We have also demanded that the case be transferred to another police station as Manohar Thana police is acting under pressure of Meena," Dey says.
Although Raje reportedly held a "high-level meeting" at Sunday to discuss the matter, both she and her son have been tight-lipped about the incident.
Meena though has been asked "to explain his role in the incident" within a week by the BJP's state president Ashok Parnami.
The opposition Congress has seized on the issue to launch an attack against the state government.
"This is the home district of the chief minister and I don't think this violent incident can take place without her recommendation," ANI quoted the party's state chief Sachin Pilot as saying.
"The elected member himself is attacking the activists. This has completely exposed the government. If an NGO or a social worker brings out Jawabdehi Yatra, then the government must take cognisance of it, but unfortunately the opposite is happening here."