Sep 01, 2023

Is the UP model that of bulldozers and encounters?

Atiq Ahmed, who was shot dead on live TV, while in police custody, was a despicable character, whom I once met at a construction site in Prayagraj (then Allahabad). He was contesting in 2004 general elections, and I was covering them, accompanied then by a fellow woman journalist. Both of us were distinctively uncomfortable surrounded by a gangster and his henchmen, and it was a heightened experience that we have never forgotten. There was no doubt we were engaging with a psychopathic violent killer-for-hire.

Thus, the grave discomfort is not over Ahmed being dead, but at what the extra-judicial killing reveals about the nation's largest state, Uttar Pradesh. The men who pulled the guns and shot the gangster did so in the presence of policemen and media. The shooters are seen in videos and reported in media as shouting ‘Jai Shri Ram’ as they surrender to the police. In a video interview to the media the distraught mother of one of the three shooters describes her son as a deeply religious, who did darshans, and sang bhajans. In another interview, the father describes his son as a drug addict. The police FIR reportedly says that the three shooters have said during interrogation that they wanted to kill the gangster and his brother "to become popular".

Presuming the police version is to be believed, and the episode was not a set-up, tough questions about the breakdown of law and order in Uttar Pradesh remain. This execution can be seen as an escalation of due process of law being ignored in the State. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is described as ‘bulldozer baba’ as bulldozers are now used against whomsoever the government sees as ‘trouble-makers’. This is popular with sections of society as some of the targets, whose homes and businesses have been bulldozed, are feared individuals and social oppressors.

Also Read: Appalling state of affairs in Prayagraj

Frequently, bulldozers are also used against the weak and inconvenient, such as protesting members of the minority community. Escalating prejudice against Muslims is now a part of State craft in the BJP bastion. This is the Uttar Pradesh model. The template for governance in the state is a pitched Hindutva on every possible front, enrolment of young men in the ranks of militia-style groups who would be enforcers of the state ideology and incite fear in opponents. This is combined with the doling of free rations very efficiently, necessary to offset the inability of the State to provide jobs or genuine economic growth (given the polarised politics/endemic violence, it's unlikely any significant industry would move to the interiors).

Since real socio-economic justice cannot be given, there is a need to provide spectacles of instant justice, from bulldozers to now apparently, public murders. Therefore, the state finance minister, Suresh Khanna, said an hour after the assassination that it's a judgement/decision from the heavens. The heavens are apparently kind to the dons in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There is, for instance, the party MLC from Mirzapur, Vineet Singh, as tough and nasty as gangsters can be. There is Brajesh Singh of Varanasi, who spent years in jail, but is now out and known to back BJP candidates. (He began his career as a sharpshooter of the Dawood Ibrahim gang of the Mumbai underworld fame, but is currently arguably a desh-bhakt gangster). There is, of course, Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, six-term MP (five terms in the BJP) and the chief of the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) whom award-winning wrestlers recently accused of sexual harassment. The scandal broke in January and an inquiry was supposed to have been completed in a month, but it's April now.

Besides many gangsters surviving, radicalised youth and celebration of instant justice make a lethal cocktail. There are fears expressed by ordinary citizens (beyond minorities) who wonder if any dispute or disagreement with those in power can have violent consequences. Should political opponents start worrying that some radicalised youth will come after them ‘to become popular’?

In the short term, however, there is no electoral damage to the BJP. The countdown has begun for the urban local bodies elections that will take place on May 4 and 11 for 760 municipal bodies and mayors will be elected to 17 corporations. There is no real challenge to the BJP comfortably winning these elections. The results will be announced on May 13, the same day the results from the Karnataka assembly elections will be announced.

(Saba Naqvi is a journalist and author.)

(Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH)

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Also Read: Appalling state of affairs in Prayagraj (Saba Naqvi is a journalist and author.)