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Tragedy of errors at Jawahar Bagh in Mathura

Reports of policemen being targets of attacks by anti-social elements and criminals are all-too common in Uttar Pradesh. In the last four years, there have been more than 1000 such cases where mobs have attacked police stations, chased policemen, attacked them while the latter were on duty, and killed them in mob frenzy.
Every time the incident is followed by explanations, compensation and political slugfest, but no substantial measure to avoid the recurrence of such cases. But what happened in Mathura on June 2 was different.

Not only did the unprecedented violence lead to the death of two police officials, but the resultant police action caused 23 deaths, most of them men, some women and probably teenagers too. It is remarkable that in most of the previous cases of policemen being attacked by mobs, the police never resorted to retaliatory firing. But the case of Mathura’s Jawahar Bagh was different, and is likely to shake up the state’s politics severely in the coming days.

It all started in January 2014 when a bunch of 300-odd rustic men armed with lathis and bags containing clothes and utensil etc checked into the 280-acre park in Mathura. They had procured permission to stay there for two days while marching from Sagar in Madhya Pradesh to Delhi, to stage a demonstration in support of their demands. Their leader was an elderly, short-tempered man named Ram Vriksh Yadav, originally belonging to Ghazipur but an avowed disciple of Baba Jai Gurudev.

The group called itself the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Satyagrah Sanstha, and among their demands was cheaper fuel for all, a dismantling of the present system of governance, inquiry into Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s death and investigation into Baba Jai Gurudev’s death as well.

Days passed into weeks and months as the squatters grew in number, strength and armoury. The district administration, instead of preparing to evict them from the state property, looked the other way as they erected sheds and temporary dwellings, arranged rations and food for the gathering and, surreptitiously, collected arms and ammunition. They also picked up quarrels with the local people, stopped the entry of horticulture department employees who had their office inside the park premises, and generally made a nuisance of themselves.

Reports also suggest that the administration arranged for electricity supply to be restored to the entire area after it was disconnected for non-payment. The administration lodged a complaint with the police to get the squatters evicted and some people approached the court which ordered their eviction. But after continued dilly-dallying, it is learnt that about two months ago the district administration had decided to forcibly evict the squatters. The operation was reported to begin from June 4 but for some reason it was on the afternoon of June 2 that a small police force reached the park and started demolishing one part of the park’s boundary wall. Some sources say it was a rehearsal of the main event, some sources say the force had only gone on a recce. But what followed was unprecedented.

The number of squatters was believed to have risen to 5,000, and they were armed. The policemen were just not prepared for the response their action elicited – they were attacked with stones, petrol bombs, swords and finally, firearms. Several rounds were fired at the first level of policemen that tried to enter the park, and among them were the station officer of Farah police station Santosh Yadav, and the Superintendent of Police (City) Mukul Dwivedi.

Both were hit on their faces and head. Both were rushed to hospital in critical condition but died soon afterwards.
The squatters in the meanwhile set fire to police and administration vehicles, boards hoardings etc, and anything that was there. In the melee that ensued, the policemen found it hard to enter the park premises and many of the attackers and squatters fled the spot. The police then resorted to unrestrained firing, shooting anything that moved, and at the last count, 23 persons had died. Bodies of many of them were lying amidst the debris and rubble, and many of the escapees were manhandled by the people who had gathered in large numbers outside the park.

According to the police the squatters appeared well-trained in the use of firearms of all kinds, and quoted eye-witnesses as saying that even women and elderly persons were helping load the weapons and handling ammunition. Many of them had climbed atop trees and were firing from there, targeting policemen. There was mayhem in the area which continued well past midnight.

According to local sources, the police and administration had not anticipated such a fiery response from inside the park, and were not at all prepared for the kind of firing they had to face. It was planned to enter the park after demolishing the boundary wall and then chase away the squatters, but there was no intelligence input about the collection of firearms and ammunition with the inmates of the park.

People in Mathura are angry at what happened. The district administration and the police did nothing to evict the illegal occupants in the park for more than two years. It took a court order to shake the administration to launch the operation. It could well have been rounded off with a massive show of strength by the police and hundreds of arrests. But there was no intelligence input about the presence of arms such as guns, pistols, rifles, and ammunition, swords, knives, bombs and grenades within the park premises. It is learnt that the local police avoided going inside the park started even after complaints from neighbouring residents, and on the other hand armed youths from among the squatters used to patrol the park in nights.

There was considerable delay in ordering the policemen to open fire on the attackers. Locals say that the policemen were waiting for orders even after being attacked, and it was only after the station officer Santosh Yadav was hit on his face by two bullets that the police started firing.

Reports coming from various sources say that the leader of the squatters enjoyed political patronage from the ruling party, explaining the administration’s reluctance to act against him. Allegations are that the squatters were a breakaway faction from the Baba Jai Gurudev’s sect and having been denied any part in the present set-up headed by Baba Jai Gurudev’s disciple, they were promised some land in Mathura. It is intriguing that the leader of squatters Ram Vriksh Yadav could not be traced or caught by the police till June 2, but late on that day he was not only caught but killed and burnt mysteriously.

Therefore, the true story behind the Jawahar Bagh carnage may never come to light. The policemen who were at the forefront of the charge are dead. The squatters’ leader is dead. Most of those close to Ram Vriksh Yadav are dead, those who have survived are reported to be scurrying for cover, escaping to other district to avoid being caught by police.

The question rises once again: There have been many incidents of policemen being attacked by criminals in the past two years, and many policemen have lost their lives and several injured while facing attacks. But the kind of retaliatory firing resorted to by the police in Mathura is unusual. Already names of senior leaders of Samajwadi Party are flying in the air for their alleged involvement in the entire episode.

(The writer has been Editor in Hindustan Times, Bhaskar Group and The Times of India)

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