The Yogi Adityanath-led Uttar Pradesh government has very proudly announced success in "controlling crime" by instilling the 'fear of God' through a spree of police encounters. The Uttar Pradesh police claimed to have carried out as many as 1,478 encounters over a span of 14 months, leaving 62 outlaws dead and 390 wounded.
The encounters began about three months after Adityanath assumed office. However, the sensational exposé by India Today TV on August 6 has clearly brought to the fore some ugly reality. The exposé showed some police officials openly confess on hidden cameras that they would happily gun down anyone, including an innocent, for a price ranging from Rs 6 lakh to Rs 8 lakh. And what is also part of the bargain are brownie points such as a plump posting, a promotion or an official reward.
As many as 62 "criminals" are stated to have been gunned down in 1,478 encounters. ((Source: India Today)
The UP government may have given the killings the name of "encounters", but former UP director general of police Vikram Singh rightly termed it as "contract killing".
While the state administration was quick to follow the one-time supercop Singh's advice and order suspension of the three sub-inspectors who were caught on camera offering their services to carry out the dirty job, the administration is moving heaven and earth to prove the cops wrong.
An inquiry has been ordered against those who spilled the beans but there is no effort to find the truth behind what they told the undercover investigative reporters of India Today TV.
Surely, it was a tough call for BJP national spokesman Narendra Taneja to defend the indefensible on the TV show, so he chose to feign ignorance about the ground reality of how UP police officials, mired in corruption and inefficiency, function.
According to Taneja, "The cops, who were caught on camera, could just be aberrations, while the UP police in general was truly upright."
Interestingly, he also sought to contend, "Yogi Adityanath is a God-fearing person, so nothing wrong could happen under his regime."
Completely oblivious to the ground reality, the BJP spokesman was not ready to believe that bulk of those gunned down in the encounters were small-time offenders and not hardened criminals, who were ostensibly on the target of the chief minister, from the time he assumed office in March 2017.
Barely three months later, faced with a lot of flak over his failure to improve the law and order situation, which had taken the lowest dip during his predecessor Akhilesh Yadav's time, he felt compelled to do something.
It was at this juncture that someone from his coterie of sycophants gave him the bright idea to go for large-scale encounters to create an impression that he and his police meant business. What began thereafter was a spree of encounters.
With a no-holds-barred, the police took the count to a whopping 432 in the very first month of the exercise. Naturally, it provoked me to go up to then director general of police, Sulkhan Singh, and ask for the list of all 432. To my shock, I was told that the number of those killed was only 19.
"Encounter does not mean gunning down, it simply means shoot-out," I was told by the then top cop.
So what happened in the rest of the encounters?
"Well, a few were injured, while most of them escaped," he clarified adding, "But let me tell you the intended message has gone far and wide."
The UP government wants to be perceived as one serious about dealing with crime. (Photo: PTI/file)
That made it clearly evident that the Adityanath government's main objective was to build a perception about the chief minister's intent to improve law and order. After all, it was the unabated crime that was largely responsible for the rout of the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party regime.
"Hum kisi nirdosh ko maarne ki baat nahi karte hain, lekin yadi koyi police par goli chalayega to use thok diya jayega (We do not believe in allowing any innocent to be killed, but if someone will open fire at the police, then he will be shot dead)," the chief minister was heard saying at several fora, justifying the ever-increasing encounters.
Of late, he had also been emphasising, "When it comes to eliminating criminals, we do not discriminate on the basis of caste or religion." Whether the remark was an outcome of some kind of guilt, could be anybody's guess.
As it stands today, as many as 62 "criminals" are stated to have been gunned down in 1,478 encounters, which also left 390 injured. However, even insiders in the state police department believe that other than 18 hard-core criminals, the rest who fell to police bullets were small-time outlaws or petty thieves.
What turned out to be even more interesting was the manner in which some of the encounter victims were made to appear 'big' and therefore 'fit to be eliminated'.
What the police in certain parts of the state were known to have done was to declare a bounty on the heads of petty criminals and a week or fortnight later when such a man would be gunned down, it made big news. It gave a convenient handle to the cops to go to town claiming that they had eliminated a rogue carrying a bounty on his head.
In certain pockets, where some dreaded criminals continue to thrive, the story goes that cops even manage to extract "protection money" from them. And the mafia manages to rule the roost in other places because of their nexus with politicians of all hues.
At the end of the day, even though the list of encounters is long, it has failed to act as a deterrent. That was explicitly demonstrated last week in the daring daylight bank cash van robbery, barely 200 metres from the UP Governor's House and just outside the residence of state law minister Brijesh Pathak on the state capital's busy main thoroughfare, Mahatma Gandhi Marg.
Crimes against women in general and rapes as well as gang-rapes in particular continue unabated. No wonder, the state government has remained silent about rapes, while giving out crime data.
Authorities concerned readily give out details of "fall" in the number of murders, dacoities, road hold-ups, abductions and even arson. Figures of rapes are divulged only if one is insistent. And criminal history of those gunned down in encounters is systematically avoided so that the beans are not spilled.