The Ram Navami processions this year witnessed large-scale violence and rioting in Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, and Jharkhand. Madhya Pradesh’s Khargone saw maximum rioting with more than fifty houses and properties, mostly belonging to Muslims, were gutted. The Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led government then used bulldozers to demolish 16 houses and 29 shops of alleged stone pelters.
Incidentally, some of the houses demolished by the government were built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana with a letter of gratitude to the CM posted on their walls. On Monday, local municipal officials demolished these houses without any investigation or court order.
More than 27 FIRs have been registered and 80 people have been arrested. Claim tribunals have been set up to recover the compensation amount against the damage caused. Most of those arrested are Muslims and the people whose houses have been demolished also almost exclusively belong to the Muslim community. Madhya Pradesh BJP president V.G. Sharma alleged that Popular Front of India (PFI) “funded” the riots.
On the other hand, several opposition leaders, including Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, termed bulldozing of houses ‘unconstitutional’. Gehlot went on to say that even the Prime Minister of India does not have the right to demolish the house of any accused person before proper investigation, adding that what happened in Khargone is a ‘mockery’ of Indian Constitution.
Since the incident in Khargone, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s image has transformed into that of ‘Bulldozer Mama’, rivalling UP CM Yogi Adityanath’s ‘Bulldozer Baba’ image. And that’s why ‘Bulldozer’ or rather ‘Bulldozer politics’, which had spawned in UP and is now spreading to other BJP-ruled states, is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
American farmers James Cummings and J. Earl Mcleod who designed the bulldozer in 1923 for agricultural purposes would have never imagined that this gigantic machine would go on to become the one of the biggest electoral tools for politicians in India to win elections. It now seems that a government will be judged as strong and decisive not on the development work it does but by the number of bulldozers it uses to demolish citizens’ houses.
Also read: Who’s afraid of the bulldozer
Yogi to ‘Bulldozer Baba’
According to UP ADG Prashant Kumar, within two weeks of the BJP and Adityanath’s return to power for a second term, more than fifty ‘criminals’ surrendered out of fear of the bulldozers. In the first instance, the police in Pratapgarh district stationed a bulldozer in front of the accused person’s house after receiving a rape complaint against him. The accused surrendered the following day.
Similarly, on 25 March, in Saharanpur, a police team reached the house of two accused named Amir and Asif with a bulldozer and demolished a portion of their house. This action was also taken in a case of alleged rape. According to the police, the accused surrendered themselves soon after. In the Tanda police station area of Rampur district, the police demolished a house of a murder accused, following which an inquiry has been ordered.
Overall, instead of going to court, the UP Police is blatantly using bulldozers to instill the fear of law. The Adityanath government had launched a recovery campaign against Muslims who allegedly damaged public property during the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act. The court had to intervene against the notices issued by the district administration and in most of these cases, the police have not been able to prove the crime to this day. The case of theatre actor Deepak Kabir grabbed headlines after the government’s action drew criticism and much embarrassment following his release.
As per the Gangster Act, police investigation is mandatory before any such use of a bulldozer, but the rule hasn’t been followed in most cases. The bulldozers were used in rallies during the 2022 UP assembly election to show a strong government in power. They were even stationed at rally sites. Adityanath famously proclaimed in Karhal (Akhilesh Yadav’s seat) that the bulldozers have been dispatched for maintenance and will start functioning again after 10 March (the result day).
Shivraj Mama to ‘Bulldozer Mama’
The rapidly increasing popularity of Adityanath within the Sangh Parivar due to his pro-Hindutva policies, programmes against the so-called ‘love jihad’, anti-Romeo squads, and use of bulldozers has encouraged other BJP CMs to emulate the ‘Yogi Model’. And Shivraj Singh Chouhan, who once used to be the most trusted CM of L.K. Advani, after Narendra Modi, has been at the forefront of this emulation act.
He passed a more stringent law than UP to recover damages during acts of rioting. It has a provision of recovering the double value of damaged properties within a fixed time. On March 22, when a tribal youth died in Raisen district after a clash between two communities, Shivraj ordered demolition of the accused persons’ houses. In Sheopur, houses were demolished in an alleged rape case, with the administration claiming they were built on illegal land.
On 31 March, when a case of rape by a sadhu came to light, the CM candidly asked officials as to when the bulldozers would come in handy. BJP MLA Rameshwar Sharma even got his photo clicked with a bulldozer. “I will bury the criminals’ has become Shivraj’s favourite catchphrase over the past one year.
‘Muscular CM’ club
Several BJP leaders point out that ‘muscular politics’ has become Shivraj’s compulsion because the BJP – particularly Amit Shah and Modi – and the RSS now prefer leaders who give a tit-for-tat response. That’s why there is an immense competition in the BJP, from Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam to B.R. Bommai in Karnataka, to join the ‘Muscular CM’ club.
However, legal experts ask if the government starts doling out ‘justice’ on the basis of its own likes and dislikes, then what are the courts for? They argue that ‘bulldozer politics’ is the beginning of a dangerous trend and to instill fear in the minds of criminals, the law needs to be tightened instead of bypassed.
BJP founder Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s image of being a ‘Vikas Purush’ was formed due to the rollout of the nationwide network of National Highways and PM Sadak Yojana during his tenure. Modi’s image of a ‘development-oriented CM’ was similarly made possible because of the ‘Vibrant Gujarat Summits’. Even Congress’ Sheila Dikshit’s popularity was a result of her government in Delhi building flyovers and metro networks, not by using bulldozers. Yogi Adityanath and Shivraj Singh Chouhan would do well to remember that.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant)