At least 27 people are dead, including a Superintendent of Police, after violence in Mathura, which has only begun to throw up details of a deeply secretive cult. But the longer timeline of the >Swadhin Bharat’s land grab in the city’s Jawahar Bagh since 2014 and the recap of those fateful final hours on Thursday draw a clear line of indictment running from officials in Mathura to the Uttar Pradesh administration in Lucknow. Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has admitted to “lapses” in the police operation to evict the group, with estimates of those present going up to 3,000. In their own defence, district officials say the police did not go to Jawahar Bagh to clear the 200 acres involved, only to recce the area. The explanation given for a Superintendent of Police landing up at the spot with a few dozen men and a bulldozer in tow is that the action was meant to create an opening on one side of the encroachment, so that, during a final operation, those believed to be held coercively by the cult could have safe passage. The settlers have expectedly been on edge after the Allahabad High Court ordered their eviction. “Lapses” is too mild a word to explain the botched operation, undertaken with a few dozen personnel but with the provocation of a bulldozer. There was a clear intelligence failure — the administration was unaware of the large cache of arms stored by the settlers. The police were unprepared for the ferocity of the attack, during which LPG cylinders were exploded, destroying habitations and causing roughly half the total deaths, including that of the leader of the cult.
Swadhin Bharat had arrived in Mathura from Madhya Pradesh’s Sagar district in April 2014, seeking permission to halt for a couple of days. They were ostensibly on their way to Delhi to stage a protest at Jantar Mantar. But they stayed on, and over time their list of irrational demands became known: annulling the election of the President and Prime Minister, issue of Indian National Army currency, sale of 40-60 litres of fuel for a rupee. All this was wrapped in a dreamy, nationalist homage to Subhas Chandra Bose. At the same time, they chased Horticulture Department staff off the park and met any visitors with fierce violence. Locals tell fantastical stories about their parallel administration, something the authorities were not wholly unaware of. FIRs were filed, the District Magistrate informed higher-ups in Lucknow formally, and attempts were made to use drones to snoop on the settlement. In the meantime, the two days became years. There is a clear picture emerging that the group’s leadership enjoyed the patronage of the powerful. This must be inquired into, along with other lapses in the police action.