It is 50 degrees Celsius at Mathura on June 3, the day after the Jawahar Bagh showdown between the police and a cult. Ram Chandra Yadav, a constable of the Provincial Armed Constabulary, is seated on a broken charpoy. “Everyone knew what was happening here, but no one wanted to act,” he said, looking at the charred remains around him. For two years, the Swadheen Bharat Vidik Satyagrahis (SBVS) were staying in the park.
“The easiest way [to empty the park] would have been to fill it with water and then allow the children and women to come out,” said the constable. “There would have been no damage had there been any kind of planning by the police and state administration.” Jawahar Bagh is hemmed in by the cantonment and offices of the superintendent of police, district magistrate and the PAC.
It all started on January 11, 2014, when Ram Vrikhsa Yadav, leader of the SBVS, started a protest march from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. On March 15, 2014, they reached Mathura and sought permission to use the park. The district administration permitted them to stay for two days. The SBVS then took over the 270-acre property and refused to move out until its demands were met.
One demand was that the government should provide everyone with 60 litres of diesel for a rupee. Two other demands: replace the rupee with Azad Hind Bank currency and abolish the posts of prime minister and president. The SBVS claimed to espouse the cause of Subhas Chandra Bose and wanted all papers relating to his death released. It also launched an armed wing named Swadheen Bharat Subhash Sena.
On May 20, 2015, the Allahabad High Court ordered the removal of the SBVS squatters from the park. The SBVS's appeal was dismissed, with 050,000 as costs, on May 26, 2016. On June 2, the police clashed with around 2,000 armed members of the SBVS. Twenty-four people died, including Superintendent of Police (City) Mukul Dwivedi and Station House Officer Santosh Yadav. Dwivedi was lynched and Santosh was shot between the eyes while trying to protect him.
The showdown did not happen abruptly. On the Akhilesh Yadav government's watch, the illegalities kept building up, layer by layer, and then exploded. Between January 2015 and June 2016, the intelligence wing of the Uttar Pradesh Police kept scaling up its alerts (see box). With assembly elections in UP less than a year away, the showdown has all the makings of a political potboiler.
Political observers say the SBVS was hiding its real ambitions behind Bose's name. It had also demanded that the government release the death certificate of Jai Gurudev Baba, a self-styled godman who died in 2012, leaving many claimants to his vast empire. Ram Vrikhsa Yadav was a follower of Jai Gurudev and was reportedly hoping to succeed him.
Ashram sources said Jai Gurudev was extremely well connected with politicians. Prime ministers Indira Gandhi, Chandra Shekhar and A.B. Vajpayee and Union ministers L.K. Advani and George Fernandes were among his visitors. Today, the Jai Gurudev Trust is valued at 012,000 crore. It reportedly holds 1,000 acres, most of it on NH2 outside Mathura. The jewel in the Mathura complex is the grand Jai Gurudev temple, complete with white marble domes and minarets a la Taj Mahal.
Jai Gurudev's death triggered a three-way fight between Ram Vrikhsa Yadav, Umakant Tiwari and Pankaj Yadav. The winner was Pankaj Yadav, who had been Jai Gurudev's driver long ago. Ram Vrikhsa Yadav then formed the SBVS, armed his cadres with everything from rifles and country-made pistols to swords and Molotov cocktails, and marched on Mathura.
Critics of the ruling Samajwadi Party allege that Public Works Minister Shivpal Yadav, Akhilesh's uncle, is a trustee of Jai Gurudev Trust. The BJP has demanded Shivpal's resignation alleging that the SBVS enjoyed the patronage of the state government thanks to his links with the trust. Shivpal dismissed all charges as baseless. When THE WEEK visited Pankaj Yadav's father, Charan Singh, at the ashram, he said, “Ram Vrikhsa has nothing to do with the ashram. He has been doing all this in the garb of being a devotee of Jai Gurudev. He claims Jai Gurudev was Subhas Chandra Bose. Jai Gurudev is from Khitora village in Etawah district, UP, and Subhas Chandra Bose was born in Cuttack, Odisha. So, how can Jai Gurudev be Subhas Bose?
“We had told the district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police that the [SBVS cadre] are like terrorists. In December 2015, Shivpal Yadav had come to the ashram and we had told him, too. He said the encroachers needed to be evicted. If anyone starts using our name, we have nothing to do with it.”
About the teachings of Jai Gurudev, Charan Singh said, “Babaji has two main teachings: don't eat meat and don't drink alcohol. We believe if you follow these two principles, rape cases in the country will come down.”
Residents from localities near Jawahar Bagh said the build-up was visible. “It was an open secret,” said Mahesh, 18, a resident of Jawahar Colony. “They were like Naxalites. They captured poor men, women and children, kept them confined to the park and gave them rifles and training for two years. They ran a school inside the park, set up a solar plant and sold sugar and tomatoes at throwaway prices to garner local support. They did not believe in any form of governance, in the president or prime minister and openly abused police officers.” Jawahar Colony has 65 families, most of them government employees. The families were a worried lot as the SBVS wanted to take over the colony, too.
Rajni and Kaptan Singh have been living in Jawahar Colony for 22 years, and the last two years have been traumatic. Said Rajni, “No one could step into Jawahar Bagh. Whoever dared to cross the boundary wall was in deep trouble. A caretaker who tended the mango trees was nearly killed by the satyagrahis two years ago.”
Ravinder Bagela, who runs a tea stall in the area, said, “Big cars used to visit Jawahar Bagh. We do not know if they were politicians or businessmen. [SBVS activists] always carried a blue flag with a picture of the earth in the centre. They constantly chanted slogans like Jai Hind, Jai Subhas, Kashmir hamara hai [Kashmir is ours] and Pakistan murdabad [down with Pakistan].”
Kaptan said it was like Diwali, on the night of the showdown. He added, “There was money and material coming into Jawahar Bagh, but we don't know from where. This year they sold sugar at 025, when market rate was 040, to garner public support. The sale used to take place on Sundays, so that they could take people hostage if the police cracked down.”
Director General of Police Javeed Ahmed confirmed that there were intelligence reports about SVBS cadre being heavily armed. He told THE WEEK that his priorities were to finalise “the investigation and postmortem reports” and the probe would follow. He said the SVBS had been open to negotiation earlier. “They changed their stance suddenly,” he said. “There has been a lapse of assessment more than anything else.”
He said the police had received information about the masterminds. “We will start hunting for them, and, if required, take the help of other states,” Ahmed said. The probe could stretch to Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar. The police said Ram Vrikhsa's body had been found; absconding suspects are Ravinath Singh, Chandan Bose, Harnath Singh and Rakesh Babu.
The BJP has demanded a CBI inquiry, but Ahmed said it might not help. “I have worked in the CBI for more than 12 years,” he said. “I do not understand how the CBI is fit to probe the case. The CBI does not probe events.”
Policemen injured in the showdown have been admitted to Nayati Hospital, Mathura. Relatives of the policemen said the state had not extended any assistance to them. “BJP MP Hema Malini met us and left, saying everything will be alright. My son was shot in the hand,” said Ram Roop Yadav, father of Constable Bhupendra Singh of the UP Police.
While Akhilesh has fired the district magistrate and superintendent of police, he is finding it increasingly difficult to distance himself from the fallout. The opposition has pointed out that for the first year the power and water supply to the SBVS camp had not been cut. Charan Singh told THE WEEK that Akhilesh and his father, Mulayam Singh Yadav, had visited the ashram when Jai Gurudev died. And, Pankaj Yadav, the new head of the trust, hails from Etawah, Mulayam's hometown.