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Saharanpur violence: Yogi's cops let situation get out of hand, officials admit lapses

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 26 May 2017, 9:39 IST
(PTI photo)

Uttar Pradesh government officials have admitted there were administrative lapses in controlling the situation, even as they point towards a conspiracy by 'outsiders' in fomenting trouble in Saharanpur.

The district, which has been reeling under caste violence between Dalits and Thakurs, did not see any fresh clashes on Thursday.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has sought a report from the state government on the several rounds of caste violence, which have left three dead and more than two dozen injured since 5 May.

Home secretary's version

The administration has come under serious criticism for its mishandling of the situation which has put the BJP in a fix.

Home secretary Mani Prasad Mishra, who has been camping in the district along with other senior police officials, claims that the investigations point to the role of outside elements with 'vested interests'. He said the administration would come out with details once it had solid proof. “The social fabric of the region was not responsible for these cases of violence,” he told the reporters.

He refused to divulge any details about these outsiders or their role.

Mishra also explained how there was a lapse on the part of the administration in gauging the situation. And that is why the state government has immediately changed the district top brass, including suspending SSP SC Dubey and district magistrate NP Singh. “This move explains how there is no difference between what the state government says and what it does,” Mishra said.

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had earlier promised action against all culprits, while reiterating that the state government would work for all sections.

Biased administration?

The top bureaucrat in-charge of the law and order machinery also accepted that the perception that the administration has been biased has gained currency.

Local police has been struggling with a crediblity crisis ever since the April incident when local BJP MP Raghav Lakhanpal, accompanied by a hundreds-strong mob, had laid siege at the residence of the local SSP Love Kumar, and still managed to evade arrest, despite an FIR.

Both the Thakurs and the Dalits have blamed the administration of being biased. It is reeling under allegations of arresting people arbitrarily, without verifying their role in the violence.

Local police officials accept it may have been the case as the police was under pressure to perform and give results. Mishra says all those who have been wrongfully detained or arrested will be released.

Mishra and other senior officials, during their visit to Shabbirpur, had to face the anger of the local Thakurs on Thursday, who accused the state government of just going after the boys from their community.

“Why did the police not arrest these people when they were creating ruckus in our side of the village on 23 May after Mayawati's visit? Is this not bias?” asked Rajkumar Chauhan, in Shabbirpur, as he ran towards Mishra and other officials with a video clip of the day, which showed Dalits passing through the Thakur mohalla and shouting slogans. “Why did they have to pass through this road when they have a separate route?” he asks. “They wanted to show us their strength and the police allowed it,” he says.

Meanwhile, Suggan, a Dalit, says: “The police have not bothered to hear us out. Why should they? It is anyway a BJP government. They do not care about us,” as he pointed to the row of burnt houses in the Dalit quarters. His one-room house, too, was burnt on 5 May by the Thakur mob.

Police didn't judge situation well

SSP Dubey and DM Singh have been placed under suspension by the state government while new officers have taken charge.

A senior official posted in the district pointed to serious lapses from the police in judging the situation. He said this may have happened because of the inability of the outgoing district police chief to not take local intelligence inputs seriously.

A senior official claims that the local intelligence unit was given a go-by by Dubey, who would not rely on them to assess the situation. “He would not take the inputs at all,” one official claims, giving an example of how Dubey was advised to not go in for immediate arrests after the 5 May violence, and wait for a couple of days instead.

Another senior official of the state police accepted that the situation may not have gone out of hand had the administration not allowed the Mayawati visit or allowed hundreds of people to gather in Shabbirpur, which had seen caste clashes on 5 May. “In hindsight, it looks like a bad decision, but we don't know what were the considerations when the approval was given,” says the official.

Another local police official claims that SSP Dubey did not even ask for the local intelligence unit's assessment of the proposed event, and granted the permission.

Congress leaders involved?

While the BJP leadership continues to blame Mayawati and the BSP for the clashes, investigators are also understood to be probing the role of local Congress leaders in their support to the Bhim Army, which is said to have been behind the second wave of violence on 9 May, and again on 23 May.

However, a local police official pointed out that little evidence had come up, except that local Congress leaders, including Imran Masood, may have just promised that they would back the Bhim Army chief. Curiously, Imran Masood was not in town on all three occasions when the violence erupted.

Interestingly, locals say that the Bhim Army got in touch with a lot of influential Muslims in Saharanpur on 23 May, after a Muslim man was among those who suffered gunshot wounds in the attacks that followed Mayawati's visit to Shabbirpur.

Some of the Bhim Army's cadres, said to number around 100 members in the district, are wanted in multiple cases of violence on 9 May, when local administration officials were attacked. The police has so far refrained from arresting its chief Chandrashekhar Azad 'Ravan', who even made an appearance at Jantar Mantar in New Delhirecently. His arrest may not come anytime soon.

“Our priority right now is to get the situation back to normal. His arrest is not expected soon, for we are still gathering evidence,” ADG Law and Order Aditya Mishra told Catch in Shabbirpur.

Far-fetched to call it political conspiracy

The first suggestion that the state government may be looking at the role of a non-BSP party in the violence came up from Siddharth Nath Singh, the state cabinet minister, who, in an interview to a TV channel, said the investigations have revealed that political players are trying to get into the space the BSP has ceded after being routed in the recent elections. He had not named any party, but the Congress, with a history of its outreach to Dalits, fits the description.

Another senior police official in the district, too, says, it may be far fetched to term it a political conspiracy at this point, and to insinuate that the violence was a political design. “It is natural for the political parties to jump in once the incident has happened, make hay while the sun shines,” he said.

Multiple police officials this reporter spoke to also confirmed that there was little to even suggest BSP played a role in excerbating tensions or supported Bhim Army, the group which is said to have provoked the Thakurs by pelting stones on their houses and raising offensive slogans on the day Mayawati visited Shabbirpur.

The investigations had thrown up the name of a former BSP MLA, but a local cop says even his role may have been confined to just attending a meeting or two.

Offensive attitude of the youth

“The way caste tensions have spiralled in this region is a net result of the offensive attitude of the youth from both sides. They are directionless and difficult to control,” is how one senior police official in the district put it.

“Indeed, the young boys from the Thakur community have become very aggressive since the BJP government came to power. Some of them actually believe it is their government, and they do misbehave with Dalits and Muslims,” Rajkumar, a retired school principal in Badgaon told Catch.

His village Chandrapur was the theatre of violence on 23 May as the group of Dalits returning from neighbouring Shabbirpur were waylaid, leading to one death.

Another top cop had a better explanation. “Of the two communities involved in the clashes, one has a history of being the dominant group, while the other has become assertive owing to successful politics of identity,” he said referrring to Thakurs and Dalits respectively. He explains with a very large population of Dalits, Saharanpur is a peculiar case, and different from other areas of the state.

For now there is an uneasy calm in the district. The district administration is hopeful it lasts. But like a youth from the Thakur community put it in Shabbirpur, “it will be difficult to contain now. It has already spread to many other villages. How do you rebuild the trust?”

First published: 25 May 2017, 22:59 IST