The temple town of Mathura was on Friday on edge after massive violence claimed 24 lives, including a Superintendent of police and Station House Officer, as police clashed with about 3,000 members of a little-known sect whose leaders have fled while 368 people have been arrested.
An uneasy calm prevailed as forces from other parts of Uttar Pradesh were rushed to bring normalcy to the town where a large cache of ammunition was recovered from the members of Äzad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharik Kranti Satyagrahi”, an outfit claiming to owe allegience to Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, in Jawahar Bagh area.
The clashes took place when police went to evict the members of the sect, which has made outlandish demands for the removal of the president and prime minister and replacing of the Indian currency, from a 260-acre government land encroached by them. The police action followed Allahabad high court orders.
Mukul Dwivedi, Superintendent of Police and Santosh Yadav, Station House officer, Farah, were killed in the violence that also claimed the lives of 22 members of the sect.
Among the 24 killed, the two policemen were shot dead and 11 were burnt to death due to cylinder blasts. The encroachers had set on fire the huts where bombs, explosives and gas cylinders were stored, before retreating from the site, he said. In all, 22 rioters including a woman were killed.
Ahmed said there was “unprovoked” firing by the encroachers who pelted stones and attacked the policemen with lathis as they arrived at the site for a recce to carry out the eviction, leading to the death of two police officials.
The violence led to political sparring with the Bharatiya Janata Party, Congress and others attacking the government headed by Samajwadi Party while Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav ordered a probe by the divisional commissioner of Mathura into the violence.
The Centre sought a report from the state government while Home Minister Rajnath Singh spoke to Yadav and extended all support. However, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju attacked the state government saying there were was some lapse.
“The leaders of the sect Ram Vraksha Yadav, Chandan Gaur, Rakesh Gupta and others will be booked under the NSA Act,” UP DGP Javed Ahmed told a press conference.
Ahmed said the police teams reorganised themselves after losing two of their men. When two shelters were vacated, the protesters set afire gas cylinders and ammunition stored there which led to several explosions.
“Our two young officers laid down their lives while protecting the law and with a heavy heart we bid adieu to them,” he told reporters after paying tributes to the slain officers.
Ahmed said 23 police personnel have been hospitalised and many among them have suffered bullet injuries.
“We have recovered 47 guns, six rifles and 178 hand grenades from the area,” the DGP said, adding “ Around124 people have been arrested for creating disturbances. Another 196, including 116 women, have been arrested under 151 CrPC,” he said. Section 151 CrPC deals with preventive arrests.
“After the blast, a few encroachers were hurt and succumbed to their injuries. Since people of neighbouring area were fed up with the activities of the encroachers, they were severely beaten by the residents of the area when they were retreating,” he said.
Ahmed said the police party had gone to the site on a recee but the encroachers, who were climbing on the trees, started indiscriminate firing, brickbatting and lathi-charging on the police party.
“The encroachers have been dispossessed from Jawahar Bag,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh Police has made 368 arrests in connection with the violence in Mathura even as the four main accused in the clashes between police and members of a sect are absconding.
“Police has registered a case under sections 147, 148, 149, 307, 302, 353, 186, 188 of IPC and section 7 of Criminal Law Amendment Act against 11 named and 2500-3000 unnamed persons,” Uttar Pradesh IG (Law and Order) Hari Ram Sharma said.
The sections provide for punishment for rioting, murder and assault of public servants among others.
Sharma said among those arrested, 58 are accused in the case registered on a complaint by Sadar police station officer Pradip Kumar while 310 people were held for breach of peace.
Police has also recovered 58 weapons and 184 used and live cartridges from the area.