THE Gujarat Police have questioned the act of Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor, youth leader Hardik Patel and Independent legislator Jignesh Mevani in conducting a ‘raid’ on the house of a woman at Adivada village in Gandhinagar, and claiming to have recovered two pouches of countrymade liquor from her, calling it irresponsible vigilantism.
Based on the complaint of 55-year-old Kanchanba Makwana, a widow and mother of four, who accused the three youth leaders and the 15-20 supporters they came with of planting the liquor, police have registered an FIR against them under Sections 452 (house trespass), 504 (intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of peace), 193 (false evidence), and 114 (abetment). Makwana lives barely 200 metres from the office of the district superintendent of police.
On July 5, Hardik, Thakor, Mevani and the others had conducted what they called ‘Janata Raid’ at Makwana’s residence, claiming they were acting on “information” that contrymade liquor was sold there. The trio later released a video of the ‘raid’, and showed two pouches saying these were “recovered during the raid”.
Accusing the three leaders of encouraging “lawlessness”, Gandhinagar Superintendent of Police Virendra Yadav said, “They have no authority to do this. What if tomorrow some individual raids these leaders’ residences without authority? Such acts can also lead to incidents of mob lynchings sometimes.”
While he admitted there were a couple of cases under the prohibition law against Makwana, the SP said police can’t raid a suspected liquor den without following procedures, including “keeping independent witnesses with them”.
Defending their actions, Thakor said, “Under the provisions of the Representation of People Act, elected members of a Legislative Assembly are called Gazetted Officers who are empowered to conduct Janata Raid.” However, he couldn’t recall the “exact section” which said this.
Thakor added, “We did not trespass into anybody’s house. One of our men went to buy liquor as a customer and we did not enter the house till police arrived. Plus, after the customer got the liquor pouch, we informed police on 100 number that here liquor is being sold illegally.”
Defending their action further, he said, “You tell me, can there be a raid after informing?… So, to defame us, should the government support such people? They did not take my FIR and registered an FIR against us… This seems to be sending the message that howsoever big you are, if you try to stop illegal sell of liquor, you will face a false criminal case.”
Hardik and Mevani could not be contacted.
On Thakor’s claim that they did not enter Makwana’s house till police arrived, the SP said, “Even before police, media had reached there.” They would check videos that had been made of the raid to verify claims of the two sides, he added.
Gujarat Minister of State for Home Pradeepsinh Jadeja accused the three leaders of seeking publicity, adding that such ‘raids’ can lead to serious law and order issues. “The Gujarat government is committed to strict implementation of prohibition. The amount of recovery of illegal liquor proves our commitment to it.”
Defending Thakor, Mevani and Hardik, Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda claimed the ‘raid’ was being raised “to intimidate them” and “divert the issue”. “Law and order situation is deteriorating in Gujarat and people are agitated over unemployed youths indulging in addiction and other illegitimate activities. These three, Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh, are social workers. As per my information, they did this ‘raid’ after getting a complaint from locals… Janata Raid highlights the failure of police and state government.”
On whether they should have taken law in their own hands, Chavda said, “Had police been performing its duty properly, such incidents of raid would not have happened. Everybody knows that police take bribe from bootleggers in Gujarat. And this raid is an echo of people’s ‘aakrosh’ (anger).”
Three days after the ‘raid’, Makwana refused to talk to anybody. A neighbour said she didn’t want to “weaken” her case by saying anything. Earlier, the 55-year-old had said the ‘raid’ had left her “terrified”.
When contacted over the phone, one of Makwana’s sons, Mohabbatsinh, who works as a casual labourer, also refused to talk.
Other neighbours claimed there was a menace of illegal liquor in the area, but refused to identify themselves. Without specifying why, a woman said, “We do not speak with them (Kanchanba and her relatives) as we do not like them.”