Ekta manch that aims to divide

Print edition : May 11, 2018

THE making of the Hindu Ekta Manch (HEM), the forum spearheading the campaign to defend the accused in the Kathua rape and murder case, is a classic example of how competitive votebank politics makes strange bedfellows. The manch came into being soon after the Crime Branch (C.B.) of the Jammu and Kashmir Police took up the investigation of the case and political leaders in the Kathua-Hiranagar belt of Jammu started crying foul. They played the Hindu-Muslim card since the victim was Muslim. Although the investigation was initially supervised by the then Additional Director General of Police, Crime Branch, Alok Puri, they pointed to the presence of Additional Superintendent of Police Naveed Peerzada, who hails from Kashmir.

When Alok Puri retired on February 28, Inspector General of Police Syed Ahfadul Mujtaba, an officer with impeccable credentials, took charge of the post. His team, led by Ramesh Kumar Jalla, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) of the Crime Branch, with Naveed, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DySP) Shwetambri Sharma and others literally fast-tracked the investigation. That, however, did not change the minds of those who, having decided to give it a communal colour, gave shape to the HEM.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is part of the coalition government in the State, played a “significant” role in the formation of the HEM. However, its national general secretary, Ram Madhav, denied that the party had any role in the HEM and said that one of its office-bearers, Vijay Sharma, was asked to resign. “If the Hindu Ekta Manch is doing some good work, we have no problem with that,” Madhav said at a news conference in Jammu.

The fact is that Vijay Sharma was one of the main persons behind the launch of the HEM. He led a major rally in Rasana village in Kathua district in mid February at which the national flag was flown and the participants defended the rapists and the murders, particularly Deepak Khajuria, the special police officer who is said to have played a major role in the crime.

“He [Khajuria] has been falsely implicated. More than 5,000 people participated in the rally,” Vijay Sharma told a news website.

According to him, the HEM was formed in January to “defend people from police harassment”. “Members of the BJP and other parties have come together under the banner of the Ekta Manch,” asserted Sharma. He confirmed to Mirror Now’s Pradeep Dutta, in an interview, that he was instrumental in forming the manch after “some Muslims came to the area and assembled to protest”. He was referring to the young Gujjar-Bakarwal activist Talib Hussain, who had tried to take out a march but was arrested.

A picture that went viral on social media recently showed a look alike of Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh posing with five people, of whom four were active participants in HEM activities. The picture was reportedly taken in April in Jammu, but despite repeated attempts Jitendra Singh could not be contacted to verify its authenticity. The picture showed him with HEM leaders and former sarpanches Kant Kumar (Congress), Rakesh Singh (BJP), Yogesh Singh (BJP) and Vijay Tagotra (Congress) and the BJP Kathua district head Prem Dogra. A report in The Telegraph referred to Dogra as saying that it was not a planned meeting. But Tagotra said that Dogra took them to meet Jitendra Singh, who apparently told the delegation that he had no problem with an inquiry by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). Jitendra Singh reiterated this on February 22 and April 15.

The subtle support to the Manch from the BJP and the Congress was visible. Two Ministers of the BJP, Chandra Prakash Ganga and Lal Singh, joined the HEM’s rally on March 1 and extended support to its demands. When they were asked to resign, Lal Singh said they had gone to the rally on the party’s direction. When the outrage reached a crescendo, the BJP tried to distance itself from the rally.

The HEM, however, had the support of all parties except the Peoples Democratic Party, as maintained by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. National Conference members also sided with the HEM, and party president Farooq Abdullah had to expel Shanti Saroop, block president of the party in Hiranagar. Tagotra, who had been appointed head of the Congress’ IT cell and Rajiv Gandhi Panchayat Cell on January 2, and Kant Kumar were in the forefront. But the party did not take action. The Panthers Party, which has been in the forefront of advocating the “Jammu cause”, also did its bit. So the Manch had all the required support from political parties to pursue its “cause”. But all the parties were trying to compete to address the Hindu vote bank.

Shujaat Bukhari

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