The events in Mathura on Friday, during which two policemen and 22 protesters were killed (at the time of going to press), have proved once again that references to the badlands of Uttar Pradesh are often quite justified. This time the deaths were because of a fallout of encroachment on government land by people believed to be members of a religious organisation called the Azad Bharat Vidhik Vaicharak Kranti Satyagrahi, which claims that it follows the teachings of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The encroachers, when threatened with eviction in response to a court order, fired on the police, who had to retaliate. The incidents look eerily similar to those of Saharanpur in 2014, when a plot of land was supposed to be the reason for dispute between two communities. The saving grace then had been that the administration was quick to act and was able to minimise the casualties. But this time it was not able to gauge the possibilities of a flare-up such as this.
That the local administration is most definitely to blame for events of this kind cannot be over-stressed. In fact according to preliminary reports even UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has admitted to the fact that the administration could not guess that events would go out if hand in this manner. For example, it may be asked how the encroachers were able to acquire and accumulate arms. Second, the fact that they could muster enough courage to fire on the police gives rise to the suspicion that they have some kind of political backing, which gets woven into a pattern of illegalities. Third, why did the group think it appropriate to invoke the name of Subhas Chandra Bose? Obviously it thought this was a suitable name for it to be in step with the mood and temper of the times, when there is an attempt by the ruling dispensation to pull down some outstanding nationalist figures and replace them with some others.
All said and done, the short point is that the administration, as in many other cases, had been caught flat-footed. The problem of encroachment is widespread across India, not just in UP. In the capital, there have been several instances of people encroaching on public spaces, often building temples or other houses of worship and then using that as a figleaf to justify land-grabbing. At the first sign of such violations, the authorities are duty-bound to act and evict those engaged in such activities. It was not done in the UP case with fatal consequences.