Lucknow: The main accused in the Umesh Pal murder case is still on the run, 20 days since the gruesome daylight killing in Prayagraj.
Pal’s sensational murder in broad daylight has triggered a fresh debate on the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh, with the opposition parties pointing at the increasing incidents of crime in the state. The state government led by Adityanath, however, has claimed that the quick arrests and ‘encounter’ killing of two of the alleged shooters is an instance of its commitment to keep order in the state.
Umesh and the two policemen deployed for his security were murdered in the Dhoomanganj locality of Prayagraj on February 24. He was the key witness in the 2005 murder of Bahujan Samaj Party lawmaker Raju Pal.
Jaya Pal, Umesh’s wife, named jailed mafia leader Atiq Ahmed and his family members, including his brother Ashraf, wife Shaista Parveen and Atiq’s sons, as responsible. In her complaint, Umesh’s wife also named Atiq’s henchmen Guddu Muslim, Gulam and some unknown people.
After Umesh’s murder, the Adityanath government came under attack from the opposition parties. It was argued that controversial bulldozer and bullet action against accused persons – which the UP government has been using with abandon – is failing to curb crimes. Umesh’s murder was also seen as an attempt by Ahmed’s gang to retain its clout in the crime world, which has steadily diminished since he was arrested in 2017.
An alleged kingpin in Umesh’s murder, Ahmed has a long political and criminal history. He was a five-term lawmaker and also a Samajwadi Party (SP) parliamentarian between 2004 and 2009, with intermittent innings in BJP’s ally Apna Dal. He was also allegedly involved in several crimes, including murders, kidnappings, etc.
The budget session of the UP state assembly was ongoing when Umesh was murdered. The session turned stormy as the opposition, especially SP leaders, came down heavily on the ruling dispensation over the law and order situation in the state. Adityanath and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav debated the matter on the floor of the house.
Yadav attacked the Adityanath government by saying that Umesh’s murder showed that the law and order situation was getting worse in Uttar Pradesh. The chief minister should be ashamed that such brazen crimes are taking place, he said.
This led to a debate in the assembly, with Adityanath yelling at the opposition while repeating that he has zero tolerance for crime and criminals. Later, the SP president hit back at the chief minister and demanded a list of the top 10 criminals involved in heinous crimes in the state. “This list is never made public for fear that BJP people might also be on it,” the former chief minister said.
Crackdown on Ahmed’s gang – and controversies
Under pressure and embarrassed after a cold-blooded killing in broad daylight, the UP police started an investigation and searched for the accused. During this, they conducted a massive crackdown on Ahmed’s family and his henchmen to ascertain the motive behind the crime.
In Prayagraj, several allegedly illegal properties owned by Ahmed and his men have been destroyed so far. Two of the accused were killed in a police ‘encounter’ – Vijay Chaudhary alias Usman and Arbaaz. The special task force detained another accused, Sadakat Khan.
But many of the people accused of killing Pal are on the run. This includes Ahmed’s son Asad, his wife Shaista Parveen, Guddu Muslim and Ghulam.
This has led to a number of questions. While the UP police moved quickly at first, even killing two of the accused and bulldozing the homes of alleged criminals, many feel that since the opposition’s attacks have subsided, the police action has slowed down considerably.
Vikram Singh, the former director general of police, says that the people of Prayagraj feel that police action is slowing down now even though the main accused are still absconding. According to the former top cop, the police should inform the public about their actions, or the perception will be that the police is shooting arrows in the air.
While contacted, Prashant Kumar, the additional director of police (law and order), said the reward for anyone providing information leading to the arrest of the five accused has been increased to Rs 5 lakh from Rs 2.5 lakh. The ADG (L&O) also added that the police are trying to explore the conspiracy behind the murder.
Amidst this crackdown against Ahmed’s aides, several controversies have emerged. During the action, the Prayagraj Development Authority demolished the house where Ahmed’s family lived. Later, Saulat Hanif, Ahmed’s attorney, said in a widely shared video that his client did not own the house the authorities demolished. The house belonged to Zafar Ahmad Khan, a Banda-based journalist, Hanif claimed.
Another controversy emerged after Vijay Choudhary alias Usman was killed in an ‘encounter’. His wife, Suhani, has claimed that her husband was neither a Muslim nor a member of Ahmed’s gang. Suhani alleged that the police killed her husband in a fake encounter after picking him up on the morning of March 6.
Meanwhile, there was a new twist in the case on March 6, when Ahmed’s sister, Aisha Noori, blamed UP cabinet minister Nand Gopal Gupta “Nandi” for hatching a conspiracy against her family. She told the media that Nandi’s wife Abhilasha Gupta does not want her sister-in-law, Shaista Parveen, to contest the mayor’s election in the upcoming municipal polls.
Possible political repercussions
Rajpal Kashyap, an SP leader, says that the BJP government has failed on the front of law and order “The government is using encounters and bulldozers to hide its failure. The country should run according to the Constitution and not through bulldozers,” the former MLC said.
Atul Chandra, a political commentator, thinks that the case has made Adityanath’s reputation as ‘Bulldozer Baba’ even stronger. However, Chandra, who authored a book on Adityanath, says these actions will not bring any electoral dividends.
Another senior political observer, Utkarsh Sinha, believes that the BJP used action against Ahmed to woo its hardcore communal voters. Sinha said that because of these actions, communal voters will remain with the BJP, as for this faction, the rule of law holds no value.
Notably, bulldozer action has been coupled with a large number of encounters in Uttar Pradesh. The state government has bragged about this policy without a care for the fact that it is illegal and undermines the criminal justice system. A UP government press release reiterated its policy against the backdrop of attacks by the opposition. It said that an “encounter” is the “top strategy” to contain crime in the state, and that the UP police has conducted over 10,000 “encounters” in the last six years since Adityanath was appointed as the chief minister. According to figures released by the UP government, the state police has conducted 10,713 encounters. As many as 1,708 accused persons were also injured in police action, the press release said.