Yogi Adityanath's Uttar Pradesh is in the grip of an encounter mania; Ab tak Attharah (18) and counting...

Lucknow, 15 September
The Uttar Pradesh Police release official data on crime control under the new dispensation of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Reveals that in 180 days of the new government, 420 encounters have taken place leading to the elimination of 15 supposedly dreaded criminals. The last ten of the 15 were killed in 48 days leading up to September 14. That is a furious pace of one criminal felled every five days. 

Two days later, Muzaffarnagar, 17 September
Jan Mohammad is killed in an encounter when he opens fire on a police party.

Three days later, Etawah, 18 September
Sundar Yadav is killed in an encounter when he opens fire on a police party.

Four days later, Greater Noida, 19 September
Bavindra is killed in an encounter when he (what else?) opens fire on a police party.

The Uttar Pradesh Police force is on steroids. They have just got back their licence to kill and they are killing at a fair clip, if not at free will. Of course, they don’t call it "killing". For elimination of life by the State there is a more legally-sanitised, more macho term: Encounter. It has a Rambo-like ring to it and the public just loves it.

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. PTI

So, it raining encounters in Uttar Pradesh. From 15 encounter deaths in six months before 15 September, it has risen to 18 deaths in the batting of an eye as the timeline above shows.

But more chilling than the killings is the state of mind of the police. It reveals a certain blood-thirsty streak. Sample this tweet by Rahul Shrivastav, additional superintendent of police and public relations officer at the state police headquarters. On 1 September, announcing the encounter death of Sushil Kumar, an alleged fugitive, near Lucknow, Shrivastav summed up the mercenary mood of the force in ten menacing words: “#uppolice encounter express halts in the capital….miles to go".

A day later, he retweeted a report of on Sushil’s death put out by a local newspaper. The intro of the report (translated from Hindi) says: "Chief Minister Yogi’s Yamraj (police) is in action." Yamraj is the mythological god of death.


A fortnight after the police’s encounter scorecard was made public in Lucknow, Anand Kumar (ADG, Law and Order) was less crude but cleverly made everybody complicit in the renewed blood game. The Hindu quoted him as saying that the encounters were conducted in the interest of society as per the "desires of the government, expectations of the public and according to the constitutional and legal power accorded to the police".

How legal and constitutional these killings are is an open issue but it is true that the encounter ball was setting rolling again by the political executive. Early in June, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath told India TV: "We will not allow anarchy in the state anymore. We have given enough warnings. Now we are preparing for action on a wider scale. Criminals and gangsters will either be inside jails, or will flee from the state…"

A few days later, his deputy, Keshav Prasad Maurya, picked up the cue and took it right up to death’s doorway. "Today criminals are terrified with the thought that either they will have to give up crime or leave UP, or, maybe, even leave this world," he told The Hindu.

This thinly-disguised threat was repeatedly endorsed and reinforced by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. "Agar apradh karenge toh thok diye jayenge (if they commit crime, we will knock them down) he told," India TV in the interview quoted above. As recently as 16 September he told News18 Uttar Pradesh: "Police in UP will now respond to a bullet with a bullet. Unlike the previous government, I have given full authority to the force to deal with criminals in the most appropriate way possible."

"Encounters" again received the pride of place in a series of tweets on his official handle @CMOfficeUP on 19 September. Listing the achievements of his six-month rule in a tweet-storm, Yogi wrote: "6 mahinon mein 430 encounter (430 encounters in 6 months)." Care was taken to update both the number of encounters (from 420 on September 15) and the death count in encounters (to 17; it has now gone up to 18).

With all this tough-talk, the Adityanath government seems to have legitimised violence as an instrument of State to eliminate crime. At least that seems to be the takeaway for the police rank and file. "Encounter" is the instant currency for crime control and everybody seems to want their share of the pie. Jai Narayan Singh, IG, Range, Lucknow, put up a Facebook post with the comment "Ghaziabad se ek yaadgaar khabar (a memorable report from Ghaziabad)". He attached a clipping of a newspaper report which was a throwback to his tenure as SSP, Ghaziabad. The report was headlined “ab tak chhappan nahi, atthavan", an allusion to a Bollywood flick that eulogises Mumbai Police’s "encounter specialist" Daya Nayak. Nayak was supposed to have silenced 56 (chhappan in Hindi) criminals. Singh, the report said, did two better than Nayak at 58 (atthavan).

UPencounters

The Yogi government has obviously been influenced by the rhetorical psy-ops of supercops such as Julio Ribeiro or KPS Gill who lionised the ‘an eye for an eye’ theory to deal with terrorism and cross-border insurgency. Gun-toting terrorists are not on the prowl in Uttar Pradesh. To draft a "bullet for a bullet" strategy for day-to-day crime control is uncalled for, unprofessional and downright unethical.

Those picked up by the state police for elimination in encounters are mostly petty criminals. For example, all the three criminals felled after 15 September — Jan Mohammad, Sundar Yadav and Bavindra — had piddly reward amounts of Rs 12,000-15,000 on their head. Hardly the stuff "dreaded criminals" would command. Bavindra, according to Rahul Shrivastav’s twitter timeline (@upcoprahul), was making away with a stolen Honda City and Rs 1.5 lakh when he was challenged and shot. Going by past experiences nationwide, it is also possible some of them have been framed in cooked-up cases. A former DGP of the state told me that all recent encounter deaths looked suspicious. "If you look at the records, those shown to be carrying a reward on their heads were framed in such a way as to brand them as dreaded criminals who needed to be eliminated."

Is this a civilised response? By all accounts, unlike troubled Kashmir, the states in the North East or the Maoist-affected areas, Uttar Pradesh is not marred by internal strife or insurgency. Crime and criminal gangs in Uttar Pradesh are the direct result of the political patronage for crime and criminalisation of politics and police.

And most of those who figure in the police records as top gangsters have assumed the role of either lawmakers or have patronage from the state. Brijbhushan Saran Singh, Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya, Ramakant Yadav, DP Yadav, Atique Ahmed and Mukhtar Ansari are some known gang lords who run a parallel state in their respective areas of influence (some of them even from within prison walls). Have you heard any of them being taken on by Uttar Pradesh’s trigger-happy police? Far from it, the Uttar Pradesh Police act as subservient to these organised gangsters, providing them security cover.

Take for instance the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013. The Akhilesh Yadav government tried to pressurise a senior police officer (of the rank of additional director general of police) to get even with the killings of Muslims in the Muzaffarnagar riots by suggesting severe action against the Hindus. "I have not joined the force to be a hired assassin," the officer responded and was summarily shunted to a non-posting. His refusal to kowtow to the dictates of political masters was an exception. Former Uttar Pradesh DGP and a strong votary of police reform in India, Prakash Singh, admitted that an unfettered licence to kill on a whim would invariably criminalise the force. "There is nothing wrong if a genuine encounter leads to casualty of criminals but it cannot be an instrument of State policy or stated policy," he pointed out while expressing anguish over statements by senior police officers justifying encounters as a "means to an end".

The Uttar Pradesh Police have a dubious past of staging fake encounters. The killing of 13 innocent Sikhs in the Pilibhit encounters and the indiscriminate murder of Muslims in Maliana of Meerut still cry for justice. Police records are full of instances of fake encounters in Ghaziabad and other parts of western Uttar Pradesh where police officers used to kill "petty criminals" only to earn praise from political bosses. Ghaziabad alone witnessed hundreds of such killings during 2000-04, many of them coinciding with the visits of the incumbent chief minister to Delhi.

It was thought we had seen the last of these "extrajudicial executions" after they came under severe scrutiny by courts across the country, led by the Supreme Court. It seemed like the days of chest-thumping police officers bolstering their credentials by claiming "ab tak chhappan" were effectively over. But the Uttar Police police seem to be inexorably regressing to its notorious past. An unfettered police force with a licence to kill is a graver threat than petty thugs on the streets of Uttar Pradesh.

The Adityanath government would do well to look up a decades-old judgment of justice Anand Nayaran Mulla of the Allahabad High Court. In a severe indictment of the police force, justice Mulla wrote: "There is not a single lawless group in the whole country whose record of crime comes anywhere near the record of that single organised unit which is known as the Indian Police Force…The police force in Uttar Pradesh is an organised gang of criminals."

There is yet time for the government to shut down the trap it is setting for itself by empowering the police to kill at will. But the window of opportunity is narrow. There are unmistakable signs that the police force is already relishing the new mandate just as people relish festive season discount offers.


Published Date: Sep 20, 2017 05:53 pm | Updated Date: Sep 21, 2017 10:55 am


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