Bloodshed in UP's 'free nation'

24 killed in clashes between police and land-grab cult with bizarre demands

By Piyush Srivastava in Lucknow
  • Published 4.06.16
Ram Briksh Yadav (hand raised), the chief of the cult, with his followers in Jawahar Bagh in Mathura a month ago

Lucknow, June 3: Twenty-four people died in Mathura last evening in a gunfight between police and a band of encroachers led by Ram Briksh Yadav, 60, whom officers described as a self-proclaimed guru and Subhas Chandra Bose fan protected by the ruling Samajwadi Party.

Some 300 armed cops had under high court orders tried to free a 60-acre public park the group had occupied for two years, leading to a battle between 5pm and 8.30pm that killed two officers and 22 of Ram Briksh's cult members.

Ram Briksh had declared the park, Jawahar Bagh, a "free nation" where his armed wing, styled "Azad Hind Fauj" after Subhas Bose's army, carried out regular arms training.

They locked up anyone who entered, forcing them to sign on a printed document declaring they were "nationals of Jawahar Bagh" and followers of Azad Hind Fauj.

Ram Briksh is believed to have fled while 15 men, five women and two children from his side died, reflecting the demography of his group. Some 3,000 to 4,000 men, women and children - mostly from eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Bengal - lived in tents and makeshift wooden structures on the park.

Arms seized by police from Jawahar Bagh

"Whenever we tried to remove him from the park, we received a call from Lucknow to go slow. We knew well that he had assembled deadly weapons and explosives," a senior officer said, asking not to be named.

"Two weeks ago, the civic authorities cut off electricity and water to the park, but supply was restored within 12 hours following a call from Lucknow."

It was on May 30 last year that Allahabad High Court had first directed the authorities to clear the park, but the police acted only after a second directive three weeks ago threatened action for contempt.

Ram Briksh had till four years ago been a disciple of local spiritual guru Tulsidas Yadav alias Jai Gurudev, living in his ashram. His followers believe that when Jai Gurudev died in 2012, his soul entered Ram Briksh's body.

Expelled from the ashram after a power struggle, Ram Briksh formed the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah, claiming to take forward the unfinished work of Subhas Bose. He apparently placed his armed wing under the command of a Siliguri native called Chandan Bose.

Police sources said the organisation's bizarre demands included petrol and diesel at Rs 2 per litre, the replacement the Indian currency with the Azad Hind Fauj's currency, and a popular vote to elect the country's President.

Every morning at the park, his followers took a pledge saying they were ready to die for their guru.

Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav today blamed the district authorities: "It was an administrative lapse: they didn't realise the protesters possessed so much arms."

Mathura district magistrate Rajesh Kumar and senior superintendent of police Rakesh Kumar have been suspended for dereliction of duty.

BJP state president Keshav Prasad Maurya said the attackers were "goons of PWD minister Shivpal Singh Yadav". Shivpal denied the allegation and said the police wouldn't spare Ram Briksh.

Cult members had yesterday used automatic rifles from treetops and exploded LPG cylinders, killing city superintendent of police Mukul Dwivedi and station house officer Santosh Yadav and injuring over two dozen cops, police said. The cops have recovered 47 pistols, 5 rifles, 160 live cartridges and 320 spent cartridges.

Some 124 men have been arrested on murder and attempt-to-murder charges, and another 80 men and 116 women detained for unlawful assembly and disturbance of public peace.

The remaining thousands seem to have vanished with their leader and Chandan Bose.

"If alive, Ram Briksh, Chandan Bose and their other leaders will be arrested soon," state director-general of police Javed Ahmed said. Sources said 11 bodies had been charred beyond recognition.

A senior police detective from Siliguri said his department had no information on Chandan Bose and had not yet been contacted by the Uttar Pradesh police.

Ram Briksh had run away from his native Ghazipur in eastern Uttar Pradesh some 30 years ago, apparently after committing some petty crime or other. He opened a dairy in Mathura but soon closed it down and moved into Jai Gurudev's ashram with his family.

Dwivedi’s younger son

Jai Gurudev temporarily expelled him in 2010 but he was soon back. But his attempts to grab the ashram after the guru's death led to violence. He was kicked out and a case was registered, but no action followed. He then formed the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah.

Around the same time, the Samajwadis came to power and Ram Briksh's influence grew, police sources said.

On January 1, 2014, he took permission from the local administration to organise a two-day sit-in at Jawahar Bagh, earmarked for such activities, against the price rise.

He never left the place, occupying it under the noses of the adjacent offices of the senior superintendent of police and the tehsil administration.

On April 4, the gang attacked several officials from the tehsil administration when they entered the park, but none was arrested. Last week, two people were kept in confinement for an entire day but the police refused to register a case.

But the police were getting increasingly worried. An officer in Lucknow said the local intelligence had reported a huge growth in the number of encroachers and said that someone from Badaun district was supplying them with arms and explosives.

"Two drones were deployed last month to take pictures from above but were thwarted by the huge trees there," the officer said.

The police eventually had to act because of the high court's latest directive. It was issued after the original petitioner, local lawyer Vijaypal Singh Tomar, brought the cops' non-compliance of the original order to the court's notice.

But in between the two orders, Ram Briksh had displayed his chutzpah by approaching the high court and seeking possession of the park on the ground that the state government was not maintaining it well.

The court rejected the plea and fined his organisation Rs 50,000 for wasting its time.