Over the last two days, two police vehicles carrying alleged gangsters in India’s most populous state had mishaps. Both incidents ended with the gangsters dead, from police firing.
When on-the-run gangster Vikas Dubey was arrested by Uttar Pradesh police on Thursday, many - especially those supporting the state’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk who came to power promising a clean break from the state’s violent politics - claimed it was the dawn of a new era.
Friday morning brought news of 53-year-old Dubey’s death. A police team had travelled to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh state in a chartered flight to arrest him. They chose to travel back in a car with their detainee who had gone into hiding after his 100-strong gang had killed eight of their colleagues who tried to arrest him on July 3.
Since then, five of Dubey’s gang - and now Dubey himself - have fallen to police bullets across five separate incidents.
Police say Dubey, who was an accused in 62 cases including murder, tried to escape from the car in which he was being brought to Kanpur city, the base of the gangster’s operations. The car was found on its side: in a statement, the state police said that the driver had swerved to aa herd of cattle.
Two kilometres before the site of the accident, the convoy stopped at a toll booth on the edge of Kanpur. There, vehicles carrying journalists - who were trailing the police team - were stopped from proceeding ahead.
On being arrested by the police outside the Mahakaleshwar temple in Ujjain city on July 9, the gangster had shouted to all around that he was Vikas Dubey of Kanpur. Yet, a day-odd later, police say he snatched the handgun of an officer inside the overturned car, shot and injured at least four policemen, refused to surrender, and was shot dead.
Dubey’s death was foreshadowed and foretold. On July 9, Dubey’s gang member Prabhat Mishra was shot dead after allegedly trying to escape when a police van transporting him broke down. He was being taken to the hospital in the van after being shot in the leg and being “critically injured” during an earlier escape bid.
Hours before the news of Dubey’s killing broke, a lawyer approached India’s top court seeking protection for the gangster. The petition warned that police will kill him in a “fake encounter,” a term used to describe shootouts staged by the police. In the past, India’s Supreme Court has called such encounters “cold-blooded murder” and called for the charging of the policement involved with murder.
Though never a member of any political party, Dubey has ensured that he remained close to politicians, especially those in power. A video of him bragging about his association with the Bharatiya Janata Party went viral even while the manhunt for him was on.
Yogi Adityanath, a monk who became the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, belongs to the BJP; so does India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Adityanath came to power promising to end the state’s reputation for lawlessness and has presided over more than 5,000 encounters where 103 individuals were killed. Police say they were hardened criminals, but Dubey was never on their list of targets before the July 3 incident. The state police have also been accused of cherry-picking criminals along communal lines ahead of these encounters.
Unlike the country’s last high-profile extrajudicial killing, when police in the South Indian Telangana state shot dead four alleged rapists in December 2019 to overwhelming public support, Dubey’s killing was criticised by multiple politicians.
Priyanka Gandhi, who supervises eastern Uttar Pradesh for the Indian National Congress - the country’s main Opposition party - tweeted in Hindi that, “The criminal is dead, but the crime lives on.”
Uttar Pradesh’s former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s tweet translates to, “The car didn’t topple. It saved the Uttar Pradesh government from toppling.”
In 2019, a United Nations’ panel of four independent human rights experts “expressed alarm” about extrajudicial killings and fake encounters in Uttar Pradesh after 59 such incidents. They have also issued similar statements condemning extrajudicial killings in India in 2012 and 2018.
A National Human Rights Commission report identified 1,782 fake encounters in India between 2000 and 2017, stressing how common such killings are in the country.
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