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As a RSS pracharak is arrested by MP police personnel, they find themselves caught in a bind as the government cracks down against them. Their only hope now is the MP High Court 

By Rakesh Dixit in Bhopal

The Madhya Pradesh police is demoralized owing to harsh action by the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government against a dozen police personnel over the alleged custodial torture of a district RSS pracharak in Balaghat, 300 km from Bhopal. The police is now awaiting a High Court verdict which, it hopes, will help restore the force’s shattered morale.

Under RSS pressure, the state government asked the Balaghat police to register FIRs against additional SP Rajesh Sharma, Baihar station in-charge Zia-ul-Haque, sub-inspector Anil Ajmeria, assistant sub-inspector Suresh Vijaywar and constables Abhay Singh, Dharmendra Tembhre and Kunjbihari Sharma under Sections 307 (attempt to murder), 392 (robbery), 147 (rioting), 323 (causing hurt), 506 (criminal intimidation), 294 (obscene acts) and 452 (house trespass). All of them are absconding, said the police, adding that the robbery charge pertains to RSS pracharak Suresh Yadav’s mobile phone having been taken as evidence.

Yadav was allegedly thrashed by a police team in Baihar police station of Balaghat district on September 25 for circulating a highly offensive post against Islam on WhatsApp. The post particularly targeted All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen MP Asaduddin Owaisi. An FIR was registered under Section 295 (outraging religious sentiments) after some Muslim youth complained and Yadav was arrested.

PIL IN COURT

Taking up cudgels on behalf of the punished police personnel, the Democratic Lawyers forum filed a PIL in the MP High Court seeking revocation of the government action against the officers and a CBI probe into the incident of alleged custodial torture. Congress Rajya Sabha member and Supreme Court lawyer Vivek Tankha is fighting the case.

Given the RSS influence on the Chouhan government, neither the opposition nor the police force is hopeful of a fair play in the case. Their hopes are pinned on the judiciary.

Responding to the PIL, a division bench comprising of acting Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice Anjuli Palo issued notices to the MP government through the home secretary, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the CBI, state DGP and the Balaghat SP. Given the sensitivity of the matter, the Court ordered that “nothing pertaining to the merits of the matter or allegations made in the petition shall be published by the way of press statement or news in the media”. However, most of the details are already in public domain, courtesy the media.

According to BJP sources, the Shivraj Singh government is edgy over the Court’s verdict which is expected soon. An additional director-general of police (ADGP) in the police headquarters said on condition of anonymity: “The chief minister’s abject surrender to the RSS pressure has not only demoralized the police force but has also set a horrible precedent.”

(L-R) A crowd gathers in front of the SDO office at Baihar; Baihar police station
(L-R) A crowd gathers in front of the SDO office at Baihar; Baihar police station

A section of the police force has vented its frustration over the government’s action in the social media through oblique references to the RSS influence over the government.

A mock IPC has also surfaced in social media, suggesting how and why the RSS cadres must not be touched, howsoever heinous their crimes.

The unseemly haste with which the state government buckled under RSS pressure to act against the police personnel has landed Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in an unenviable situation. It has also given the Congress party a potent opportunity to portray the government as a “stooge of the RSS” ahead of the Shahdol parliamentary by-election due on November 19.

COMMUNAL IMPLICATIONS   

Just how badly the government bungled in this case at every step is evident in the sequence of events since September 25 when the case was registered against Suresh Yadav. The Baihar police station in-charge Zia-Ul-Haque was conscious of the communal implications of his action against Yadav for circulating the anti-Islam post on WhatsApp. He apprised his seniors, including IGP DC Sagar and SP Asit Yadav and sought their direction. The seniors assigned ASP Rajesh Sharma to lead a team to apprehend Yadav the next day. A nine-member team with Zia-Ul-Haque as the sole Muslim member went to the RSS office to pick up Yadav. A meeting was on there.

According to the police, Yadav first vociferously protested the allegations against him but yielded after the ASP snatched his mobile and showed the controversial post in it. Armed with evidence, the police team took him for interrogation. Just a few yards from the police station, the RSS pracharak escaped and hid in a medical store. As policemen rushed to catch him, a mob of mostly RSS volunteers gathered and started hurling abuses at the police personnel and gheraoed the station. They threatened that they could unseat chief ministers, even prime ministers. “We can make or break governments. You are worthless. Just wait, if we fail to remove your uniforms, we will leave the Sangh,’’ were some of the alleged threats.

According to BJP sources, the Shivraj Singh government is edgy over the Court’s verdict which is expected soon. An additional director-general of police (ADGP) in the police headquarters said on condition of anonymity: “The chief minister’s abject surrender to the RSS pressure has not only demoralized the police force but has also set a horrible precedent.”

Undaunted, the police started Yadav’s interrogation. There are conflicting reports of what subsequently happened. While the police maintain that Yadav sustained minor injuries while trying to wriggle out of the police net, RSS leaders allege that the policemen led by ASP Rajesh Sharma beat their man black and blue. However, a video recording of Yadav’s interrogation, which went viral later, shows him as having suffered only minor bruises. He is seen aggressively complaining of the thrashing but did not look grievously injured to warrant admission in the ICU of a Jabalpur hospital where he was brought by supporters the next day. The hospital is owned by staunch RSS leader Dr Jitendra Jamdar.

SIT PROBE

The medico-legal report of Yadav also confirmed that he had sustained minor injuries. The report has put the special investigation team (SIT) which was formed to probe the incident, in a quandary. The SIT has also not found any evidence of merciless beating which would warrant Yadav being admitted in a hospital, according to police sources. They also said that SHO Zia-Ul-Haque, who the RSS has alleged to be main culprit, did not even touch Yadav. The SIT is, therefore, dithering on submitting its report lest it is challenged in the High Court which is already seized of the case. A magisterial probe has also been ordered by the home department into the incident. 

(L-R) SP Asit Yadav and IGP DC Sagar of Balaghat who were removed
(L-R) SP Asit Yadav and IGP DC Sagar of Balaghat who were removed

Haque later recalled spending the night cowering in a room above the police station after it was surrounded by hundreds of slogan-shouting Hindu activists following Yadav’s arrest. They demanded that he be handed over to them, Haque said, called him names and said he should be sent to Pakistan. The incident may have moved the state’s home minister to transfer or suspend the policemen involved in the alleged bashing. But BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya’s tweet, deploring the “unpardonable act” of beating a RSS man fuelled the row.

Coming as it did a day ahead of the BJP state executive meeting in Gwalior, the Baihar incident dominated the meet’s proceedings. Many more BJP leaders such as Lok Sabha member Prahlad Patel, his younger brother and MLA Jalam Singh and another MLA Sanjay Sharma voiced support for Vijayvargiya’s tweet. They even demanded resignation of agriculture minister Gaurishankar Bisen who hails from Balaghat. The discord in the ruling party over the issue prompted the RSS to exert more pressure on the government. The organization had already enforced a successful bandh in Baihar town on September 27 to demand action against the police officers. 

RSS DIKTATS

As a result of RSS pressure, state home minister Bhupendra Singh announced suspension of the “guilty” police officers in the BJP meet itself. This apparently did not satisfy the RSS. So, Singh and his cabinet colleague Bisen visited the RSS pracharak at Jamdar hospital in Jabalpur the next day. Here, the ministers not only endorsed the RSS accusation of police brutality but also announced that henceforth, police officials across the state would be asked to keep meeting RSS cadres in their respective jurisdiction so that such incidents did not recur.

The home minister also announced that nine police personnel would be booked for attempt to murder, rioting and robbery. Even this punishment was not deemed enough by the RSS. Its two most influential leaders in the state, BJP organization general secretary Suhas Bhagat and regional head Arun Jain called on the chief minister to act tougher. On October 2, Chouhan removed the IGP and the SP.

The RSS is still not satisfied as the “accused” have gone underground. On October 20, two RSS volunteers of its media cell in a press conference accused the state government of deliberately not arresting the policemen. They also charged the media with distorting facts about the incident and siding with the police.

Given the RSS influence on the Chouhan government, neither the opposition nor the police force is hopeful of a fair play in the case. Their hopes are pinned on the MP High Court.

“We are confident that the Court will say that all citizens are equal and RSS men can’t have the license to get away by committing crimes,” state Congress spokesman Pankaj Chaturvedi told India Legal. “The government has decided to sensitize every police station about RSS leaders and workers in their area and how to deal politely with them,” said state Congress president Arun Yadav, adding, “this is a dangerous sign for democracy.” He expressed hope that the Court would take cognizance of the home minister’s statement to this effect and give suitable direction.

The Baihar incident presents a sharp contrast to similar incidents in which abusers in social media were severely punished. Two months ago, the Bhopal police arrested a bookshop owner for allegedly selling Nai Duniya, an Urdu weekly that had published the photograph of a local Bajrang Dal leader. Bajrang Dal activists had lodged a complaint accusing the magazine-seller of inciting hatred among communities. In July this year, police in Betul district arrested two men in connection with a communally sensitive message shared on a WhatsApp group.

In another instance, the Bhopal police booked two men under the National Security Act after arresting them from Mumbai for reportedly posting obscene images of deities on Facebook. In all these incidents, the accused were Muslims, whereas in the Baihar case, it was an RSS volunteer. 

There are different rules for different people.

Lead Picture: Madhya Pradesh police personnel patrolling during an event. Photo: UNI; MP home minister Bhupendra Singh and agriculture minister Gaurishankar Bisen visit Suresh Yadav at a hospital in Jabalpur. Photo: Twitter

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