The Bose cult behind Mathura violence and how it became so menacing
The entrance to Jawahar Bagh, a sprawling 265-acre park of Uttar Pradesh's horticulture department in Mathura, is lined with burnt trees - a testimony to the clashes between members of an armed sect, who rather ironically describe themselves as "Satyagrahis", and the police. Fire tenders and police vans dot the road. Some local people are heard debating whether the attackers could have been Naxals given the way they targeted the police.
Ram Vriksh Yadav, the dhoti-clad leader of the sect and his associates are absconding, and the police has launched a manhunt to find them. Yadav, a police official said, faces more than 20 criminal cases in Bareilly, Kushinagar and Mathura.
The park is a stone's throw away from all key offices of the district administration -- district magistrate, police, district court. An army cantonment is located just 300 metres away.
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It's in these surroundings that the bloody clashes that led to the death of two police officers and 22 members of the sect took place.
Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has reportedly claimed that the police made a mistake by going in without "full preparation", that there wasn't much danger there otherwise, and that nobody knew the amount of explosives inside.
His claims do not add up.
A senior police official formerly posted in the region told Catch it does not look like an intelligence failure as it has been made out to be and that the police knew the group was dangerous. Two other UP police officials who have been involved in tracking the activities of the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah, the cult involved in violence, say the police was properly briefed by the local intelligence that the group was armed. "There were daily reports with all the details," one official told Catch. "We knew they had licensed weapons including rifles and revolvers and also country-made weapons." The official added that the reports also mentioned the possibility of the group having automatic weapons. "We did not want to take chances," the official pointed out.
Javeed Ahmed, the DGP who was at the spot today, told reporters the police knew the group was armed, but did not believe they would be fired at. "The police officials did not go there thinking there will be violence," said a police official who was present when all hell broke loose. "They were trying to ensure there was no violence and trying to send a message to the group to leave."
The official pointed out that the slain SP and other officers had gone to the park on Thursday just for recce. "The operation was actually planned for 5 am in the morning on Friday," the official said, adding that they had gone to asses where the park's boundary wall could be brought down so the police could move in without being trapped.
However, as soon as the officers moved into the park, they were fired at indiscriminately without provocation. "They encircled the police party and just launched an attack," the official told Catch. The attackers numbered more than 2,500 and were armed with rifles, country-made pistols, crude bombs, swords, knives and lathis.
Caught off guard?
SP Mukul Dwivedi and Station Officer Santosh Kumar Yadav died, while 24 other policemen are said to have been injured. Dwivedi was hit on his head with a stone which resulted in multiple heart attacks, while Yadav sustained bullet wounds. The group exploded small LPG cylinders and attacked the police with crude bombs. Some of them were perched on tree-tops, videos of the incident show. As many as 11 members of the group were killed because of exploding cylinders, the police said. "They set the whole camp on fire and ran," the official added. More than 300 have been arrested. Most members of the group came from Eastern UP, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
Clearly, the police's assessment of the situation turned out to be grievously wrong. There were enough tell-tale signs of what lay in store. The incident had the imprimatur of a well-planned operation against the police.
The official confirmed that the "Satyagrahis", as the group preferred to call themselves, were prepared for a fight and had made it clear on many earlier occasions to the police and other district officials that they would not leave the park, come what may.
The police had been carrying out mock drills for the past many days to evict them. Thursday's was, perhaps, another mock drill that went awry. On 1 June, the group had been clearly told they had two days to evacuate the park, or be forcibly removed. "Like the Munaadi in the old Mughal and British days, the SDM had made announcements over the loudspeaker warning the group that they should leave," the official said.
The announcements made the group absolutely sure of the impending police operation and perhaps when the police entered Thursday evening, they saw it as the actual operation to evacuate them, and that is why they attacked, the official said.
But how did this group end up at Jawahar Park?
The group, police officials said, trace their background to Jai Gurudev, a person who had gained a sizeable following after declaring himself to be Subhash Chandra Bose. Gurudev died in 2012, leaving behind assets worth hundreds of crores, including a huge land bank. His funeral was attended by Mulayam Singh Yadav and Akhilesh Yadav, among others.
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His death sparked a bitter feud among his followers as three claimants to his legacy emerged - Pankaj Yadav, who now controls the trust; Umakant Tiwari, whose faction is based out of Ujjain; and Ram Vriksh Yadav. Ram Vriksh's followers, according to local people who have interacted with its members, claims Jai Gurudev is still alive.
An official with the local revenue department recounted that in early 2014, this group landed up in Mathura, en route Delhi. "They said they were in town as part of their Jan Jagran Yatra, which was to conclude in Delhi," the official said, adding they sought permission from the then district magistrate Vishal Chauhan to stay in the city for two days. Since the group numbered over two thousand, the DM told them to put up in Jawahar Park. "They first made settlements with tarpaulin sheets which they later turned into bamboo settlements," said another police official.
The revenue officer, whose office is right outside the gate of the park, recounted how they would play "aartis" in praise of Subhash Bose on loudspeakers. They would tell the locals that they did not believe in the Indian political system, including the offices of the prime minister and the president, calling it the "British India government". They called for the boycott of the Indian currency and sought to establish an 'Azad Hind Bank' to replace the Reserve Bank of India. "They would question the police and other officials as to why they were following the rule of Queen Elizabeth in India," the official said.
In time, the group set up a shop, a dispensary and a school in the park. The police official said they would sell groceries cheaper than the market rates, leading to long queues of local people at their shop. "They would procure stuff from local mandis and sell it on a no-profit basis," the revenue officer said. "When sugar was selling for Rs 35 a kilo they sold it for Rs 25. When Arhar dal was selling for Rs 135 a kilo, they procured a huge quantity from the neighbouring Hathras and sold it for Rs 120." According to local people, good quality rice and fruits were also made available to them at cheaper rates.
While the police officials Catch spoke to didn't have a clear idea about how the group was funded, they suspect the Tiwari faction was bankrolling them. "Some of them, however, claimed that they had sold their properties," one police official said.
The park became sort of an enclave where the rule of law did not apply, a local person said. They erected huge gates with photos of Bose. Lathi- and gun-wielding men from the group would man the gate, and pester passersby to say "Jai Hind, Jai Subhas". So much so that every person stepping out of the enclave was apparently given an exit pass. Reports suggest the group had divided itself into "barracks", where each "soldier" carried an identity card.
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While the first year did not see much of a trouble, the group started asserting itself soon after. Their first victims were horticulture department employees who worked and lived inside the park. The sect members started misbehaving with them. Their office was also targeted.
In March this year, the distressed employees
saton a protest at the district headquarters. They were soon joined by influential people from across the city and it was decided that since the administration had turned a blind eye, they themselves would proceed to the park on 4 April and try to evict the squatters.
On 4 April, the district magistrate intervened and promised that he would get the park evacuated by 20 April. According to an official, the announcement was made at 12 pm, and at 4 pm, some 250 "Satyagrahis" attacked the revenue department office, clashed with employees, and vandalised a magistrate's car.
The attack infuriated the revenue department employees. "We were targeted without any provocation," the official said, adding that they declared a strike until the matter was resolved. "We boycotted work till 20 April when the DM promised us he had asked the state government for more forces before he could start the evacuation of the group," the official said.
Meanwhile, under attack from opposition parties for its gross mishandling of the situation, and the general deterioration in law and order in Uttar Pradesh, the Akhilesh regime has ordered a magisterial probe into the violence.
Edited by Mehraj D Lone
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