NEW DELHI: Gangster Vikas Dubey’s “encounter” and the subsequent reiteration by the Yogi Adityanath government of its “strong” record of killing 122 criminals in encounters in its 40-month reign underscored the chief minister’s efforts to project himself as a leader who deals with criminals with an iron hand.
Adityanath appears to have learned from his predecessors Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, who slipped on law and order when they were at the helm and paid the price by losing power.
The BJP rode to power in 2017 attacking the Akhilesh Yadav regime for being soft on crime and terrorism after Yadav’s promise to be different by ensuring strongman DP Yadav did not get a ticket in the 2012 polls and by cancelling the ticket of Ateeq Ahmed in 2017. The BJP termed the Yadav regime “jungle raj” owing to the Muzaffarnagar communal riots, a move to withdraw cases in the UP court blasts and killing of deputy superintendent of police Zia-Ul-Haq in Raja Bhaiya’s Kunda.
Poetess Madhumita Shukla’s murder in 2003 had rocked the then Bahujan Samaj Party government after chief minister Mayawati treated her minister Amarmani Tripathi with kid gloves till he was arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation.
Mulayam Singh Yadav’s backing of Tripathi after becoming CM in 2003 and support to the likes of Mukhtar Ansari and Raghuraj Pratap Singh saw him bow out to Mayawati in 2007, who forged a Dalit-Brahmin formula against the “Yadav goonda raj” under the Samajwadi Party regime and promised a new order.
Mayawati’s regime saw a crackdown but the murders of chief medical officers that led to the National Rural Health Mission and other corruption scandals saw her lose power in 2012. In a seemingly desperate move, she attempted an alliance with Ansari in the 2017 election but only to slide to her party’s worst performance.
Within a month of coming to power, Adityanath made his policy clear – criminals must surrender or meet their end. The police operations started in August 2017, said a senior police officer who has been at the centre of action.
Of the 122 criminals shot dead so far, 59 were killed under the leadership of Prashant Kumar, additional director general (Meerut zone). Last month, Kumar was rewarded and made ADG (law & order) of UP.
The CM’s unequivocal approach notwithstanding, UP’s inherent police-criminal nexus led to some setbacks. The Bikru massacre of eight policemen, the killings of tribals in Sonbhadra, MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar case and the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests threatened to push Adityanath on the back foot.
The SP, BSP and the Congress have all chosen to make law and order their main plank against Adityanath, underlining the political resonance the issue has in UP. However, the BJP is quick to deflect the criticism to the administrative machinery in order to protect the CM’s image. The special investigation team (SIT) set up after the Sonbhadra massacre implicated many serving and retired officers and also put the blame for the age-old dispute on Congress rule. After the anti-CAA protests led to widespread violence, Adityanath gave an unprecedented order of seizing the properties of protestors.
“In the Akhilesh regime, whenever a major crime happened, it was juxtaposed with our CM’s picture by the media. But the present CM seems immune from such criticism by the media,” said a senior SP leader, who did not wish to be identified.
Opposition leaders said they expect the SIT set up to probe Dubey’s history to “consciously find” his political links with the SP and BSP rather than the BJP, whose leaders are already citing eight criminal cases lodged against Dubey during Adityanath’s reign against three cases in the decade of BSP and SP rule. This could also work towards erasing the government’s embarrassment over the Bikru massacre, as has Dubey’s rather blatant encounter after UP police may have failed to find him.
BJP leaders said Dubey’s killing, though questionable, reinforced Adityanath’s image as a leader dedicated to eradicating crime while the opposition was only serving to shore up the CM’s image by questioning the killing and “siding with Dubey”.
“I’m Yogi Adityanath, Gorakhpur wala,” BJP spokesman Chandra Mohan posted with the CM’s picture, saying UP was safe after Dubey’s killing, in retort to Dubey’s line: “I’m Vikas Dubey, Kanpur wala”.