By not initiating firm action against a mob that lynched a police inspector, Yogi Adityanath reveals BJP’s priorities in the run-up to 2019Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay
Any response to the lynching of Uttar Pradesh police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh must be in the short and long terms. In the immediate run, the assessment must be on the impact on a police force whose personnel posted in frontline positions now confront the Frankenstein’s monster they aided the political leadership create. It is also paramount to politically analyse Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s insistence on calling the cop’s death a durghatna or accident, not mob lynching. Furthermore, it is necessary to comprehend the regime’s motive in prioritising investigation into the death of a cow over the murder of a police inspector.
In the long run, it would be a cliché to limit responses to citing shortfall in the UP police strength on parameters laid out by the United Nations on the basis of population levels. Little purpose would be served by merely recalling that there is little that those in uniform can do because they are enmeshed in possibly the most impaired criminal justice system in India; it converts even the most enthusiastic officer into a cynic within months. It is time to face the harsh reality — in UP, as in several other states, the police force remains the ruling party’s handmaiden, regardless of who is in power.
The BJP government in UP perpetuated the system after assuming office in March 2017, merely replacing the previous government’s “favourites” with their own. It dumped a professed belief in “meritocracy” and continued the tradition of reserving plum posts for those from “preferred” castes while defanging previous pets by despatching them into oblivion. Like under previous governments, the police mostly further the ruling party’s political agenda — evidenced in the dramatic rise in police encounters, a euphemism for extra-judicial action, in the state.
Bulandshahr is in the region where gory cow vigilantism first displayed its fangs in September 2015 when Mohammad Akhlaq was killed. The political response at the time; subsequent lynching of several others across different states, often in public places and merely on suspicion; mushrooming of kangaroo courts backed by majoritarian political groups and a willing police force ready to collaborate with the government of the day have resulted in fear at every step in the state, but with a difference.
Belief has been amplified among sections of minorities in India, especially Muslims, that protection lies only in a collective display of identity. The liberal and progressive among them have watched with dismay as Wahabi sentiments spread across the country infusing religious conservatism even among those with little time or interest in such matters. These activities may not have evoked a complimentary political radicalism among the “neo-faithful”, but huge congregations of Muslims have been utilised by majoritarian groups for political campaigns.
The first ever Tablighi Ijtema, an Islamic congregation avowedly to reinforce the moral foundations of the faithful, in Bulandshahr concluded on the day the inspector was murdered. Due to its high attendance, estimated to be several lakhs, the event irked Hindu rightwing organisations in the district and adjoining areas with its public — and loud — display of Islamic religiosity. Traffic jams in the region enabled these groups to solicit public support beyond their supporters. Predictably, the congregation was linked to the cop’s murder in a veiled manner on social media where Tablighi Jamaat was said to be capable of mobilising crores of people overnight and accused it of links with suspect organisations abroad. Fortunately, the Bulandshahr police responded with alacrity and put out a counter tweet denying any link between the mob attack and the Ijtema.
UP has a long history of mob attacks on policemen — the Chauri Chaura incident, in 1921, severely undermined the freedom struggle and Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent approach to mass movements. Adityanath’s critics would say that his insistence on calling the inspector’s murder an accident is the result of his political genealogy: Mahant Digvijaynath, chief of the Gorakhnath Mutt from the 1930s to 1960s who was also arrested in the Gandhi assassination case, was part of a mob which attacked a police post in Gorakhpur village and killed several Indian policemen.
By not initiating firm action and displaying indignation over the mob action, Adityanath has revealed his belief that the strategy would assist the BJP in the run-up to 2019. While this may be politically inviting, the response of the police, especially the preferred lot in positions in the forefront, would have to be awaited. Concerns from the force about the inability to protect an officer from mobs supported by rightwing organisations can pose a fresh problem. In an election year, the BJP can ill-afford an additional worry.