In April 2014, Ram Vriksha Yadav, a small, greying man in dhoti-and-kurta, took over a park in Mathura with around 500 armed followers for a two-day protest.
But members of the Swadhin Bharat Vidhik Satyagrah – and its armed wing Subhash Sena – never left, occupying the public space to turn it into what appeared to be the headquarters of a self-styled revolutionary group. The local people called them Naxalites.
Little was known about the group until Thursday when police clashed with thousands of its followers, trying to clear out some 3,000 squatters on court orders. The violence left 24 people dead, including the Mathura superintendent of police.
As police piece together information on the group, what emerges is a picture of a rag-tag organisation coalesced around a cult of independence hero Subhash Chandra Bose with a warped view of the world.
With ‘Jai Hind, Jai Subhash’ as their motto, Yadav appears to have forged a militant outfit that sought to indoctrinate and give arms training to local teenagers, seeking to replace the present-day political system with their own vision of a Bose-inspired world.
GROWING KITCHEN GARDENS AND BUILDING TOILETS
For about two years, the Jawahar Bagh was their home and locals said their mornings began with messages on loud speakers from inside the park. Residents around Jawahar Park called them land grabbers and thugs.
“Those men always shouted Azad Hindustan and cursed the government. They relayed messages about a different country where one rupee would fetch 60 litres of diesel and 40 litres of petrol. We used to laugh,” said a local resident.
They built a self-sustaining unit, growing vegetables – mostly potatoes -- inside the park. No one, not even police, was allowed inside the park. For every 10-15 jhuggis, the group also built toilets. They used tractors, which carried rice and other goods for the families. When HT visited the park a day after the violence, burnt cylinders, unwashed utensils and torn clothes were everywhere.
Not much is known about Yadav, except that his organisation emerged from among followers of a powerful religious figure, Jai Gurudev, who died four years ago.
He is seen in undated photographs flanked by gun-carrying followers; at press conferences with local journalists; holding rallies of supporters. He is also said to have contested elections for the Lok Sabha and lost.
BIZARRE CLAIMS AND DEMANDS
The group demands the cancellation of the election of various members of government. They want the axing of the position of prime minister and president because the parliamentary system is seen by them as a hand-me-down from the British colonial rulers.
In a poster, now torn by the police, the group had demanded to know the nationality of the President. They even said the President is a foreign national and refused to accept the Indian elections.
But their biggest demand seemed to be replacement of the Indian currency. They pasted posters on several offices to this effect. A message on a wall of the Juvenile Justice Board’s office read– ‘Azad Hind currency ab mere desh mein chalengay.’ (Azad Hind currency will now be used in my country)
The walls of the nearby sessions court and the local Civil Lines police station are littered, mostly in red, with demands and messages such as “You will use the currency of Free Bharat else leave Bharat’.
Another message outside the Tehsildar’s office read, “Jai Subhash Bolo”.
In 2014, Satyagrah members began a march from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh, to New Delhi in support of a raft of bizarre demands, including the abolition of elections, cheaper fuel and a new currency modelled on Bose’s Azad Hind Bank.
The members, who believe in a conspiracy behind Bose’s disappearance in 1945, travelled through several states before settling down in Jawahar Bagh, the public park in Mathura that they squatted on until Thursday.
(With inputs from Hemendra Chaturvedi in Mathura and Sudhir Kumar in Varanasi)