After a manhunt of almost a week following the brutal killing of eight policeman, Vikas Dubey, the well-connected, dreaded killer of Kanpur, has been caught, in a temple in faraway Ujjain. It is not his first arrest; in the past he has managed to escape the police even after being arrested, though never convicted. How the Yogi Adityanath government will proceed now will show how determined it is in its self-proclaimed war on crime.
Since the time it assumed power in Lucknow in May 2017, the Bharatiya Janata Party and its many supporters have been bestowing fulsome praise on Adityanath. He has been named ‘Chief Minister of the Year’ for two years running by a leading national publication. While his ‘success’ in dealing with COVID-19 and the migrant crisis has received much attention, it is his “handling of crime” that has possibly won him the most admirers.
Now, with coronavirus cases on the rise and disappointed migrants forced to migrate out of the state in large numbers once again, his claims on the first two fronts are being questioned. It is, however, the horrific killing of at least eight policemen who had gone to arrest the most notorious and powerful criminal Vikas Dubey, on the night of July 2/3, that could shred his reputation as a ‘crime buster’, a reputation that has been stitched together painstakingly.
A skewed Encounter Raj
On assuming the post of chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath declared his intention of making the state crime-free. He said that anyone committing a crime would be hammered (‘thoke jayenge’). There’s a double entendre here: Thoke jayenge is also colloquial for bumping off and, taking their cue from the chief minister, the police adopted ‘encounter’ as their modus operandi against crime, completely ignoring the advice of former DGP Prakash Singh, a tough cop and inveterate champion of police reform, who had warned against making an encounter an expression of public policy.
With Yogi’s blessings, many officers of Uttar Pradesh police threw both constitutional propriety and caution to the winds and embarked on an encounter spree. None other than the ADG Law and Order, Anand Kumar, made the bombastic statement on September 16, 2017 that the encounters were being conducted as per “the desires of the Government, expectations of the public and according to the constitutional and legal power accorded to the police”.
The statement is questionable because, in 2012, the Supreme Court had stated: “It is not the duty of the police officers to kill the accused merely because he is a dreaded criminal. Undoubtedly, the police have to arrest the accused and put them up for trial. This Court has repeatedly admonished trigger-happy police personnel, who liquidate criminals and project the incident as an encounter. Such killings must be deprecated. They are not recognised as legal by our criminal justice administration system. They amount to State sponsored terrorism.”
On the same day, in a further display of brazenness, the UP police announced that the government was allowing district police chiefs to “announce rewards of up to Rs 1 lakh for a team that carries out an encounter”. This apparent morale-booster was also in contravention of the 2010 National Human Rights Commission guidelines on police encounters (reiterated by the Supreme Court in September 2014). The guidelines state, “No out of turn promotions or instant gallantry rewards shall be bestowed on concerned officers soon after the occurrence (encounter). It must be ensured at all costs that such rewards are given/recommended only when the gallantry of the concerned officer is established beyond doubt.”
These statements and incentives fired many in the police to break all previous records as far as encounters in the state were concerned and on Republic Day, 2019, Adityanath could boast that more than 3,000 encounters had been carried out and more than 60 criminals killed. The chief secretary of the state immediately issued orders that all district magistrates must actively and extensively propagate these facts as achievements of the government.
There were few who noticed that the list of those killed and wounded in the encounters did not include any of the 25 most wanted criminals of the state, whose names are circulated to every police station. Nor had their properties been attached.
The facts therefore point to the necessity of subjecting the encounters to a close scrutiny. Who are these young men who have been killed and maimed in Adityanath’s war against crime? Many of those killed and maimed had no criminal record and those that did were mostly petty criminals; one of them when supposedly “riding a motorcycle” at the time when he does not even know how to ride one; a reward of Rs 50,000 was placed on a Dalit after he had been killed; many of the FIRs filed contain identical language and details; in almost all cases, post-mortem reports have not been made available to the bereaved families and there is no record of them having been conducted in many cases. The one telling detail about these encounters is that about half of those killed are Muslims while the others are almost all Dalits and OBC’s.
A few cases stand out. In one, a reward of Rs 25,000 was announced and then enhanced to Rs 50,000 hours before Sumit Gurjar, who had no criminal cases registered against him, was killed. Later on, it came to light that there is another Sumit Gurjar in the same village against whom six cases had been registered in 2011; and according to the police the other, innocent Sumit Gurjar was also involved in the same cases!
The NHRC took cognisance of the case and asked the UP government to respond in four weeks, which it had not done until recently.
In another case, Apple executive Vivek Tiwari was shot dead by policemen patrolling in Lucknow at night. This created an uproar and the policemen responsible were dismissed from service and the government gave his family compensation and his widow a government job. In no other case of an encounter did the Adityanath government show any compassion, a fact that could be attributed to its anti-lower caste and anti-minority mindset.
Who to attack and who to protect
A certain profile of who is to be face the brunt of police and state atrocity is apparent. At the same time, who are to be excluded from these attacks and who are to be extended state protection has also become very evident.
The brutality against Dalits exhibited in Shabbirpur, in Sahranpur district, within months of the Adityanath government being installed, the repeated use of the National Security Act against Dalits and Muslims like Chandrashekhar Ravan and Dr Kafeel Khan, the intimidation, arrests and physical attacks on Dalits, including minor children, accused of having participated in the April 2, 2018 Bharat Bandh against the dilution of the SC/ST Act, the formation of ‘Romeo’ squads to tackle cases of ‘Love Jihad’, the crackdown on the meat trade, the denial of justice to lynching victims are all examples of this casteist-communal mindset.
The protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act/National Register of Citizens/National Population Register started in December 2019 and gave the government the opportunity to display still greater viciousness. Young Muslim men died in police firing in Kanpur, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Rampur, Firozabad and Bijnor. Many others were wounded and beaten. Now those at the receiving end of state brutality are being threatened with huge fines and attachment of their properties on patently unjust grounds.
The government also has shown no compunctions in going to any extent to protect its own. It has withdrawn cases against the chief minister himself and against those accused of violent and murderous attacks on Muslims in the 2012 riots, it had extended protection to a ruling party MLA, Kuldeep Sengar, accused and now convicted of raping a minor and being involved in the killing of her father, and it has withdrawn a case of rape filed in 2011 against Chinmayanand, minister of state for home in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.
When another policeman, Subodh Singh, was brutally killed by leaders of the Bajrang Dal and their supporters in Bulandshahr in December 2018, it was the killers who were treated with kid gloves. When they came out on bail in a few months, they were publicly felicitated by leaders and elected representatives belonging to the ruling party in the presence of the police.
There is, therefore, no doubt in anyone’s mind, least of all in the minds of the police and administration, as to who is to be attacked and who is to be protected in Uttar Pradesh today.
It is in the interstice between the two groups that Vikas Dubey was allowed free passage.
Dubey’s public rise to notoriety
Dubey’s rise in the criminal and political world has been meteoric and unique. He started as a petty gangster in the 1990’s and created a reputation for himself. He attached himself to a powerful politician, Hari Krishan Srivastava, who regularly changed parties according to the exigencies of winning the Chaubeypur assembly seat which he held for several years. When he and Dubey joined hands, he was in the Bahujan Samaj Party and the seat was held by Santosh Shukla of the Bharatiya Janata Party, a rising political star in the area who was given cabinet rank in the then Rajnath Singh government.
By 2000, Dubey was accused of committing at least two murders and, in 2001, he cemented his reputation for audacious ruthlessness when he gunned Santosh Shukla down along with two policemen inside the Shivli police station of Kanpur (Rural).
After this electrifying incident, it was expected that the government would go after Dubey with everything at its disposal, but that did not happen. Dubey evaded arrest and ‘surrendered’ the next year. His reputation as a ‘dabang bahubali’ was firmly established and from the Maati jail, conveniently situated in his area of operations, he carried on with his criminal activities of extortion, land grabbing and, possibly, murder. He also achieved electoral success in the zila parishad elections.
Three factors ensured his early acquittal: his supporters would put up a huge pandal outside the Maati court premises whenever his case came up for hearing where hundreds would collect, many of them carrying arms and, when the witnesses approached the court, they would be heckled and abused in the presence of the police and in full view of the court; the prosecution, according to lawyers present, put up a very weak case which did not stand a chance; all the witnesses turned hostile despite the fact that they included a large number of policemen who were witness to the murder of not only an important ruling party leader but also of their own comrades.
Friends in high places
None of this could have occurred without a helping hand from those running the government, initially the BJP and then, after mid-2002, the BSP heading a coalition with the BJP as the major partner. At the time of his acquittal, the BJP was heading the government but it did not appeal against this in the high court.
Dubey came out of jail in 2005 to a hero’s welcome and rode away in a brand new SUV, allegedly presented by the most prominent industrialist of the area, whose own meteoric rise paralleled Dubey’s!
Santosh Shukla’s brother, Manoj Shukla, former BJP vice-president of Kanpur Dehat and still a leader in that party with his own political ambitions, told IANS in an interview on July 3: “Vikas is a very vicious criminal. He has been persistently escaping due to political patronage. He murdered our brother Santosh Shukla inside the police station. There were around 25 witnesses to the crime most of them were policemen, but he got acquitted in the case due to political connections…In 20 years, Vikas always got acquitted in every case due to his political connections.”
Dubey has been arrested several times over the last several years but prisons have neither been able to hold him for long nor has the police clamped down on his criminal activities. In 2017, he publicly thanked two BJP MLAs from his area for helping him come out of jail.
Dubey was never included in the list of 25 most wanted in the state or even on the list of 10 most wanted in the district. He was allowed to function not just with impunity but with the wholehearted support of many policemen stationed in the rural parts of the two districts who touched his feet in public, attended ‘durbars’ at his home and aided and abetted him in many ways. He was clearly allowed to flourish because of his proximity to the powers that be.
This is borne out by an interesting fact. Arjun Deo Tiwari came to Kanpur as SSP in 2019 after having served in the same post in Muzaffarnagar where he is ‘credited’ with carrying out the largest number of encounters. Had he been truly inspired to root out crime, he would surely have made strenuous efforts to reign in Vikas Dubey and bring him to book. On the contrary, throughout his tenure in Kanpur, it seemed as if he did not glance in Dubey’s direction. One of his officers Devendra Misra kept complaining to Tiwari about Dubey’s activities but to no avail.
Tiwari was transferred in June 2020 and soon after, Misra set out to catch Dubey. Accompanied by several police personnel, Misra arrived at Dubey’s village on the night of July 2. The events that followed make it apparent that Dubey had been warned and had made all the preparations necessary to attack the police who dared to enter his den. They had to come on foot because the road to his mansion had been blocked by a JCB. They had to come in the dark because the lights had conveniently been switched off. Dubey’s men were ready and waiting.
Misra died as cruel a death as Subodh Singh had. And seven other policemen died with him. Several others are in different stages of recovery in hospital. Three of Dubey’s associates have been killed by the police so far. The SO of Chaubeypur has been suspended and the entire thana removed, Tiwari has been transferred again, away from the STF. Two industrialists are reported to have been called for questioning.
Devendra Misra died in the call of duty, as did Subodh Singh. Both of them had their limbs mutilated and hacked by their killers. Meanwhile, Adityanath’s carefully crafted reputation as a warrior against crime is in tatters.
Subhashini Ali is a CPI(M) Politburo member.