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Kanpur wala: The life, times and controversial death of Vikas Dubey

A small-time criminal, with small-time political ambitions, who hoped to become “a big man” fast, the 52-year-old walked the UP badlands virtually unknown, till last week.

Written by Avaneesh Mishra , Manish Sahu |
Updated: July 12, 2020 1:04:12 pm
Vikas Dubey, Vikas Dubey encounter, Vikas Dubey dead, Vikas Dubey encounter case, UP Police, Kanpur encounter, India news, Indian Express Dubey was apprehended in Ujjain and handed over to UP Police STF.

It was December of 1992 and the height of the Ram temple movement. In a couple of days, the Babri Masjid would be demolished in Ayodhya. In Muslim-majority Bikru village in Kanpur, tensions flared up over a minor incident. On December 1, two goats of a Muslim family went into the field of another man and damaged crops. The owner beat up the goats.

As the Muslim locals complained at Shivli Police Station in Kanpur Dehat area, the man’s close associate, a local muscleman, got to know. He gathered his men, and beat up the Muslim complainants so brutally that at least 50 families of the community left Bikru in terror.

According to a 72-year-old who claimed to be among those beaten, they lived the years since in fear of that “muscleman” — Vikas Dubey, then just 25. Refusing to be named, he said they eventually returned to Bikru as they had homes and land there. “Because of Dubey, no one would buy our land.” Look around, he adds, pointing to the unusually heavy metal doors of houses across Bikru, a village of around 3,000 people. “We were that scared of him.”

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In the Kanpur area, similar stories of the fear of Dubey abound, even if most of the world would only hear of the 52-year-old with the killing of eight policemen who had come to arrest him in a midnight raid. But, even in the villagers’ accounts, Dubey’s life is of a small-time criminal dabbling in district-level politics, a story played repeatedly across Uttar Pradesh.

It hardly foretells his death — after six days of a hunt across states, and seven days of ‘encounters’, including his own.

‘Shaukiya Badmash’

Dramatic as the end was, those who know Dubey struggle to recall similar theatre in his life. One of his favourite films was the 1999 thriller Arjun Pandit, where the eponymous character played by Sunny Deol becomes a gangster after being betrayed in love. Dubey fancied being called Panditji. However, his associates say, that’s where the likeness ended. Dubey was more of, what they term, a “Shaukiya Badmash (amateur goon)”.


Unanswered questions

with sixty-two cases against him starting 1999, and several trials that meandered in court, gangster Vikas Dubey clearly survived on a lot more than chance. Apart from questions regarding the encounter that killed him, will the Uttar Pradesh authorities answer the ones raised over his long, uninterrupted run? Given the unapologetic encounter spree under the Yogi Adityanath government, all eyes are on it.

He was the eldest of three sons of farmer Ram Kumar Dubey and wife Sarla. They were a middle-class family, reasonably well-off by village standards.

Ram Kumar’s younger brother Brij Kishore, who lives in Kanpur Dehat’s Rasoolabad area and claims to have had little to do with Dubey in recent past, says he was a bright child but too restless. So, when Dubey was around 14-15, Ram Kumar sent him to Kishore. “ I got him admitted to Amar Shaheed Inter College in Class 9 … However, he was unstable, kept missing school and never listened to anyone. Finally, a year later, I told my brother I could not take care of him.”

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Kishore says he kept hearing of the scraps his nephew got into as he made his way through school and college (P P N Degree College in Kanpur, from where he graduated in Political Science). As Kishore’s wife Kesar Devi interjects to say that all she remembers about Dubey was that he had few friends and obsessively watched TV (there was only Doordarshan then), Kishore says there was a change. “In college, he came in touch with politicians who both supported and used him. He kept talking of becoming a big man.”

In Rasoolabad, Kishore’s link to Dubey seems well-known. Once a local radio mechanic, Kishore survived the death of radio, and now owns a two-floor house, the ground storey of which has five shops. Amidst the hunt for Dubey, the shops remained shut.

As Dubey acquired the aura of a local muscleman, his two brothers came under his influence. Following Dubey’s death, Ram Kumar claimed he had little to do with his eldest, but Bikru has a different story, of a close-knit clan.

While the middle son Avinash died in 2003 in Kanpur’s Kalyanpur area, in circumstances that remain mysterious, youngest Prakash alias Deepu is believed by police to have been Dubey’s associate in a real-estate business. Since the July 3 raid, Deepu remains missing.

A turning point in Dubey’s life was another death, that of his first wife, a couple of years later, equally mysteriously. Soon after, he married Richa, the sister of his associate Raju Khullar, having fallen in love with her. They have two sons, with sources saying the elder one studies in the United Kingdom.

Having left their Lucknow home soon after the Bikru shootout, Richa and son returned after Dubey’s capture on Friday. Richa was questioned, but released after Dubey’s death.

Caste clout

In an interview he gave in 2006 to a local TV channel that went viral in the days following the Bikru shootout, Dubey talked about how his family was into politics. And that this gave him the knack of always picking the winning candidate — starting from back in college. This, he said, was “God gifted”.

Vikas Dubey, Vikas Dubey encounter, Vikas Dubey dead, Vikas Dubey encounter case, UP Police, Kanpur encounter, India news, Indian Express Kanpur: Police deployed at demolished residence of notorious gangster Vikas Dubey, main accused in Kanpur ambush case in which eight policemen were killed, at Bikru village in Kanpur, Friday, July 10, 2020. (PTI Photo/Nand Kumar)

The reality was more mundane. While Muslims comprise around 30% of Bikru’s population, it has always been dominated by the Brahmins, who form the second-largest group.

Susheel Pandey, 65 and a Brahmin himself, says elections in the village were peaceful affairs for a long time. “It changed with the Dubey family seizing control of the panchayat. Not just the officials and police but MPs, MLAs would come to take Dubey’s blessings. Chaubeypur Police Station was like his house.”

Explained Ideas | Despite Vikas Dubey killing, why police reforms are unlikely to happen

In the wake of the death of eight policemen in the shootout at Bikru, two personnel of the police station, including Station Officer Vinay Tiwari, were arrested and are being probed for links with Dubey. Sixty-eight others from the station have been shunted to reserve police lines. DIG Anant Deo, till recently the senior SP in Kanpur, has been transferred from the state’s Special task Force to the Provincial Armed Police unit in Moradabad.

For the past 25 years, either Dubey or someone from his family has headed the Bikru panchayat. Having served as pradhan for two terms, Dubey moved on to the Kanpur zila panchayat, while his brother, followed by the brother’s wife took over the pradhan mantle.

In 2000, Dubey won a seat in the Bhimau zila panchayat in Shivrajpur block, despite being in jail on a murder charge, as per officials.

Dubey regarded the late Hari Krishna Srivastava, a former minister, Speaker and five-term MLA from Chaubeypur seat, as his political guru. After stints in the Janata Party, Janata Party (Secular), Janata Dal and BJP, Srivastava was last in the BSP. This also opened doors for Dubey across parties.

Vikas Dubey, Vikas Dubey encounter, Vikas Dubey dead, Vikas Dubey encounter case, UP Police, Kanpur encounter, India news, Indian Express Gangster Vikas Dubey encounter spot at Kanpur on friday. (Express photo)

Srivastava is said to have used Dubey both to bring him Brahmin votes as well as to intimidate fellow Brahmin rivals. In fact, most of Dubey’s victims appear to have been Brahmins. Senior journalist Aditya Dwivedi remembers one episode, early on, that brought Dubey to attention, when he slapped a local politician, Shravan Kumar, publicly.

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Dubey has been linked to local BSP leaders, while his mother said after the shootout that he was now in the Samajwadi Party. The SP has denied this, saying the party has no links with a criminal like him. After some videos and photographs suggested their links with Dubey, BJP Bilhaur MLA Bhagwati Prasad Sagar and Bithoor MLA Abhijit Singh Sanga issued statements there was no truth to the allegation. Sanga said criminals like Dubey use politicians’ names to get shelter.

Cases, acquittals

By the end of the 1990s, Dubey’s name had started figuring in UP Police’s files. In 1999, he was accused of killing a fellow villager, Jhunna Baba, to grab his land, but no case was filed.

A year later, he was accused of conspiracy in the murder of Siddheshwar Pandey, retired principal of his own school, Tara Chand Inter College, allegedly again to grab his land. He got life term, but managed to get bail from the Allahabad High Court in 2001. Says Dubey’s lawyer Vikram Sengar, “His appeal against his conviction is still pending in High Court.”

While still in prison, Dubey was also accused of plotting the murder of one Ram Babu Yadav, of Bikru.

Vikas Dubey, Vikas Dubey encounter, Vikas Dubey dead, Vikas Dubey encounter case, UP Police, Kanpur encounter, India news, Indian Express Police deployed near Vikas Dubey’s house at Bikru village in Kanpur on Friday. (Express photo by Vishal Srivastav)

In 2001, in a stunning attack, Santosh Shukla, then a minister of state in the Rajnath Singh government, was shot dead inside the Shivli Police Station allegedly by Dubey. Police could not catch him for six months, till he surrendered in court. Two years later, he was acquitted as Shukla’s gunner, others in his staff as well as the policemen present denied having seen Dubey. An appeal against the order, in the Allahabad High Court, is still pending.

Dubey would go on to claim that he was at the spot to get an FIR registered, and that Shukla had got into an argument with police. “What happened after that I have no information.”

Shukla’s younger brother Manoj Shukla asserts the murder was over political rivalry, with Shukla having taken on Srivastava during election for the Chaubeypur MLA seat in 1996.

After the killing of eight of the police’s own on July 3, UP DGP Hitesh Chand Awasthy said they would find out the status of the Shukla murder case in the high court.

Dubey was next linked to a failed attack in 2002 on local panchayat rival Lallan Bajpai, who had been backed by Shukla, and the killing of a cable operator, Dinesh Dubey, in 2004. Dubey’s murder was said to have happened over just Rs 20,000. In 2005, a local court of Kanpur Dehat cleared Dubey in the case, said his lawyer.

In April 2017, the Kanpur police declared a reward of Rs 5,000 on Dubey’s head after he went underground following the murder of one Jai Prakash, in Chaubeypur. He was arrested around five months later.

By the time he died, Dubey had 62 criminal cases against him, including 7 of murder, and 8 of attempt to murder. He was charged under the National Security Act, Arms Act, as well as UP’s Gangsters Act and Goonda Act.

According to Lallan Bajpayee, there were other cases, which died quietly among scared villagers. “He started looting tempos on the route from Bikru to Shivli, and made a gang.”

Another Bikru resident, Chhote Lal, says that back in the 1980s, the larger Dubey clan together owned around 8 bighas of land. Dubey alone is said to now own 125 bighas, in addition to several properties in Kanpur and Lucknow. “His parents used to live in a semi-kuchcha house, where he later built a 20,000-sq ft mansion,” Chhote Lal adds.

There are allegations of extortion, from factories located in the Chaubeypur Industrial Area and from coaching institutions in the Kakadeo area, and of money made getting property disputes settled at the panchayat.

Police records show cases against Dubey at different police stations of Kanpur and Kanpur Dehat districts, as well as one case each in Saharanpur and Lucknow.

His lawyer Sengar says, “Six cases are pending against Vikas, which includes the Jai Prakash murder of 2017. Trial in an attempt to murder case was stayed on the Allahabad HC’s directive, other cases are going on.”

Additional Director General, Law and Order, Prashant Kumar said they had records of around 60 cases against Dubey in total.

In the 2006 interview, Dubey had denied all the allegations as falsehoods conjured by political rivals. “I have no connection with crime,” he said. “My fight is of political dominance, and it will go on till my death.”

On his relationship with police, Dubey said, “They have never been against me. I was the village pradhan and they continuously came to meet me. Whenever (called) I go to the police station. I do not hide from police.”

After Dubey

It was in connection with an attempt-to-murder case against Dubey, lodged by one Rahul Tiwari, that a police team had come to the village at 1.30 am on June 3. The exchange of firing lasting around 45 minutes ended in Dubey’s escape, and in a pall of silence over Bikru. The next day, as police descended in strength, and Dubey’s house and vehicles were bulldozed, the men of the village fled.

A week later, as the news of Dubey’s death trickled in, Bikru quietly emerged, in huddles. Sitting outside his shop, an elderly man said while they had no doubt police had deliberately killed Dubey, they had done “the right thing”. A woman, who said she was stepping out after a week, said, “July 10 (when Dubey died) is Independence Day for us.”

Of the five killed in ‘encounters’ during the hunt for Dubey, one was his uncle (Prem Prakash Pandey), and four his neighbours and alleged associates. Their houses are locked.

Dubey’s house, almost fully demolished, stands desolate. Mother Sarla is said to be in Lucknow; father Ram Kumar with a relative in Kanpur. Neither attended Dubey’s funeral. Richa did, amongst a heavy police force, and as the media covered her every move, shouted angrily: “achcha hua (good riddance)”.

It couldn’t have been the end he wanted. But, the youth who dreamed of becoming “a big man” can be sure of one thing. His last words, “Vikas Dubey hoon Kanpur wala”, caught on video, played over and over on social media, may haunt UP Police for some time.

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