Over police “excesses” in Bharatpur and missing nurse controversy
With a Congress fact-finding team saying there were police “excesses” during a clash over a piece of government land between Gujjars and Muslim Meos in Bharatpur district of the party-ruled Rajasthan, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is facing the heat. Especially, as the September 14 incident, which left nine Muslims dead and 22 persons injured, comes on the heels of another controversy of a government nurse, Bhanwari Devi, going missing, and in which case a Minister is allegedly involved.
The Congress national leadership has taken both issues very seriously: not only does Rajasthan go to the polls next year but the death of Muslims could have its impact in the key neighbouring State of Uttar Pradesh, which will also have elections in 2012. In the Bhanwari Devi case, the Minister in question, Mahipal Maderna, belongs to the powerful Jat community which plays a dominant role in the politics of Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh.
The fact-finding team submitted its report to the Congress leadership on Tuesday, three days after Mr. Gehlot himself was summoned to Delhi to present his side of the story. Though the Chief Minister was quick to order a judicial enquiry and seek a CBI investigation, and had transferred the District Magistrate, the Superintendent of Police and the additional SP and paid compensation of Rs. 5 lakh to the family members of each of the victims, the Congress leadership was clearly not satisfied.
Most embarrassing to Mr. Gehlot is the fact that State Congress chief Chandrabhan has also said “administrative lapses” led to the deaths and injuries. He has been quoted as saying, “There have been police and administrative lapses in Bharatpur. Had the administration remained vigilant, violence would not have occurred.”
The Congress team has also examined the “firing in the mosque” during the clashes and the allegations that those who died fell to police bullets — a charge the State administration has denied.
Party sources say locals told the team, which included MPs Vijay Bahuguna, Raashid Alvi, Viplov Thakur and Deepender Hooda, that had the government taken pre-emptive steps, the situation would not have flared up. Top police sources say the reason for the delay in taking action was that they were under the impression that the matter had been resolved. Incidentally, the Congress MPs said the two communities had reached an agreement but alleged that the BJP and the RSS “whipped up” tension.
The police sources also told The Hindu that the incident was political, rather than communal, pointing out that the two main competitors for the local seat in the last 13 Assembly elections were a Gujjar (largely fielded by the BJP, and before that the Jan Sangh) and a Muslim (nominated by the Congress). There has, therefore, been political rivalry between the two communities, which is sought to be given a political turn. The sources said that significantly, all the Muslims killed were outsiders, and that not a single Muslim home in the village had been touched.
As for the other controversy, Mr. Gehlot has been criticised for his handling of the Bhanwari Devi case, with his critics in the party saying he delayed handing it over to the CBI, as he was under pressure not to act against Mr. Maderna, son of party veteran and prominent Jat leader, Parasram Maderna. They allege that Mr. Gehlot did not want to be seen as anti-Jat, so he took time to act, which in turn has hurt the party's image. With Mr. Gehlot's critics raring to get at him, the question now is: Will the Congress leadership think that these two episodes are serious enough for it to change the Chief Minister?