The case of Vikas Dubey, the gangster who was arrested by the Madhya Pradesh police in Ujjain on Thursday, nearly a week after eight policemen in his pursuit were killed near Kanpur, exemplifies a crisis in Uttar Pradesh police. At the time of his arrest, Dubey had at least 60 cases, including murder, to his name. Since the July 3 ambush in his village, Dubey evidently travelled three states even as the UP police gunned down five of his accomplices, bulldozed his house, and arrested two policemen on the suspicion that they were his moles in the force. As evidence of the wanton short-circuiting of the rule of law in l’affaire Dubey — the chilling “encounter culture” and the alleged complicities within the system — comes to light, the police now needs to ensure that Dubey has his day in court. That even criminals have a right to due process is a principle the UP administration has, by all accounts, been guilty of giving the go-by in recent times. Though the Supreme Court has declared encounter killings as unlawful, seniors ministers and the chief minister himself, have signalled their endorsement to this disturbing phenomenon, even touting it as a major achievement in office. Taking a cue from the apparent political sanction, senior police officials have publicly owned and celebrated encounter killings, forcing the National Human Rights Commission to issue notices to them.
The Dubey case has all the markings of a disquieting nexus that involves politicians, policemen and criminals. Bahubalis, as criminals often associated with politicians are known in UP and Bihar, have been an integral part of the political landscape in these states for decades. Adityanath had promised a clean-up of law and order in UP when he came to power, and his government even claims it as an achievement. However, a culture of encounters and police impunity appears to have been boosted in UP. An apparent disdain for due process has emboldened the police force to use excessive force against criminals and protesters alike — the disproportionate police response and the stamping down of all protests during the anti-CAA mobilisations last year were part of the same pattern.
Now, the government will be watched on how it handles the Dubey case. The UP police must know, and if they don’t, they must be told that in a society governed by the rule of law, the death of policemen cannot be avenged by the encounters of criminals. Considering the scale and scope of the alleged crime and conspiracy, including the possible involvement of public officials, it will be prudent for the government to entrust the probe to an independent and impartial agency immediately.