New Delhi: An audio recording featuring a police officer telling a gangster in Uttar Pradesh about a planned ‘encounter’ and what he must do to save himself is the first piece of official evidence to directly question Yogi Adityanath’s narrative on the flood of police encounters that have taken the lives of 48 people in the past 12 months.
The police officer is believed to be Mauranipur police station in-charge Suneet Kumar Singh and the gangster is Lekhraj Singh Yadav, who has been accused in several murder and extortion cases. Singh has since been suspended and an enquiry into the conversation and the ‘encounter’ that folowed have been ordered.
Singh reportedly asked Yadav to “manage” Rajeev Singh Parichha, BJP MLA from the Babina seat in Jhansi, and Sanjay Dubey, BJP district president, if he wants to save himself. “The season of encounters is on…. Your mobile number is under surveillance and you will be killed soon. Manage the Babina MLA and the BJP district president if you want to save yourself,” the Telegraph quotes the officer as warning Yadav.
According to the Indian Express, during the conversation, the officer is also heard saying, “We were criminals from the beginning… and will remain so… committed crimes throughout life… don’t how many I have killed and dumped them… don’t know how many murders I have committed with my own hand… don’t know how many times I have gone to jail… I have all the system… all problems have been solved thanks to the grace of God.”
Similar stories, identical FIRs
While Adityanath and the BJP have defended the encounters, the opposition has said the police is using the open license given to them by Adityanath to settle scores, collect bribes and terrorise innocent people. News reports have documented how the police description of these encounters follow a similar pattern and often the FIRs registered contain identical details.
Now that evidence has surfaced of the police using its powers of impunity to transact business with gangsters, more questions are likely to be raised about the entire encounter strategy.
For now, however, the official line is that the officer in question – Singh – is a bad apple and has a questionable track record as a policeman. Jhansi superintendent of police Vinod Kumar told the Indian Express, “He was expelled from the force in 2007 for an offence. A year later, he rejoined on a court directive. An FIR on charges of unnatural offences was filed against him in Jalaun in 2011. He was acquitted by the court in 2016.” He added that Singh has 12 entries of “misconduct” in his service record between 2007 and 2016.
The encounter in question took place on Friday evening at Basari village, the Indian Express reported, and no one was injured. According to the police, all the accused managed to escape.
Senior police officials told the newspaper that Singh has admitted to being the officer on the audio clip, adding that he was trying to extort money from the gangster. Both Parichha and Dubey denied being involved with either the gangster or any encounters.
“Suneet Singh knows well that I don’t speak with criminals so he was sure that this criminal (Lekhraj) would never come to me. Suneet wanted to extort money so he was using my name. Strict action should be taken against him,” Parichha told the Indian Express.
The UP government under Adityanath has been criticised for the number of police encounters carried out in recent months. According to police records, 48 criminals have been killed in 1,755 encounters since the BJP came to power in March 2017.
The chief minister has also openly supported the idea of killing criminals. “Everyone should be guaranteed security, but those who want to disturb the peace of the society and believe in the gu, should be given the answer in the language of the gun itself. I would tell the administration, that there is no need to worry on this,” he said in February.
In an interview to The Wire last month, Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party said the encounters were aimed at terrorising the people and hoodwinking them:
“They want to scare us, as they carry out encounters along caste and communal lines. I shouldn’t have to say this but am forced to. I want to ask them – Who was Jitendra Yadav that you had to carry out an encounter with him? Because your policeman wanted an award or a promotion. So someone who was just on his way back from a wedding, you shot him. Luckily he was saved, and to silence his family you paid for his surgery. Will his life be the same, after a Rs. 7/8 lakh surgery? What were ministers going and telling his family? Let the nation know. What were they telling the family? And why did the encounter not happen in Lucknow? There was an MLA – his son was killed in front of his father. But the murderer was taken to jail with great respect. During a fight over food in Allahabad, a Dalit was killed. The criminal was taken very respectfully to jail, and I don’t understand this. They want to threaten and scare people.”
The National Human Rights Commission has issued notice to the state government on the encounters.