The demands of the Swadheen Bharat Vidhik Satyagraha, the organisation the Mathura violence, were bizarre indeed. They wanted the election of the president and prime minister scrapped, replacement of rupee with currency notes of Azad Hind Bank and petrol and diesel at mind-boggling low rates among other things. Of course, they were no fools. The demands were an alibi; the core motive was land grab. The group was going by the familiar script followed by several denominations, religious or otherwise, in India to capture government land.

The modus operandi is uncomplicated. Have a thousand people at beck and call, ensure their loyalty through either enticement or a motivational message — it could be spiritual, religious, political or otherwise, prepare them to fight for you, arm them if possible, spread fear among locals through threat of violence and go about your task with little fuss. Such organisations often promote an armed wing or a team that could be called for violent action at short notice  — in the case of Vidhik Satyagraha, it was Subhas Sena. The leaders flaunt their political connections unabashedly.
The administration, both civil and police, almost invariably buckles under pressure.

Violence in Mathura. PTIViolence in Mathura. PTI

Violence in Mathura. PTI

Afraid of consequences, officials evade action. With the administration neutralised and little threat from the local population, the groups earn the licence to operate unchallenged. The state acts only when the court intervenes or the groups get involved in acts which are too brazen to be ignored any more. Baba Rampal, the godman from Hisar in Haryana, was arrested by police from his Satlok Ashram in November 2014 following the order of the court. But this was achieved not before his supporters gave a tough fight to the police and held them off for two weeks. A fortnight later, the task force of Asutosh Maharaj, another godman, dead and kept frozen for months by senior members of his dera Divyajyoti Jagriti Sansthan, almost threatened a similar situation. Almost all deras and ashrams in North India are virtually autonomous power centres, complete with a military arm. Land grab charges against them are very common.

Too petrified to act given the political clout – remember how leaders of all political parties rushed to Dera Sacha Souda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim for his blessing before the 2014 general elections – and devotee supporter base, the administration looks the other way as they indulge in unlawful activities. In Mathura, the Swadheen Bharat Vidhik Satyagraha squatted on government land for two years. No question was asked.

As organisations like this continue to flourish across the country, the bigger question that emerges is of the state abandoning its responsibility. It is worse that it does so under threat of private armies. The sufferers are ordinary citizens of the country. The motive need not be land always. Militant Hindutva forces, there are several of them, are driven by religion. The same is the case with several Muslim outfits. They are guided by limited agendas and coercion is an essential instrument to furthering it. That rationalists would be killed for being what they are, creative people of all hues would be attacked for expressing themselves and people would be branded anti-national for not in being sync with the limited worldview of these groups are examples of it.

The state vacating its legitimate space to private outfits is a dangerous sign for the democracy. It means the ordinary citizen can no longer repose faith in it for protection of life and property. Courts cannot be the only source of hope for them. Politicians are weakening the legitimacy of the state by supporting them for limited ends. It’s high time the country took a tough look at the Senas and Vahinis sprouting everywhere.

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State vs private armies: Why Mathura violence is reminder for a hard look at the Senas, Vahinis