Time had run out for Vikas Dubey, an Indian gangster whose sway over a swath of villages on the periphery of Kanpur, a declining industrial town, had long made him an appealing ally for local politicians in the populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
The potbellied underworld don first gained notoriety in 2001, accused of gunning down a state government minister inside a crowded police station. He was acquitted at trial, as none of the many police officers in the station at the time of the murder testified against him.
In the following years, Dubey’s ability to deliver Brahmin voters in his stronghold ensured he was shielded from prosecution for a lengthening list of criminal cases, including multiple murder allegations. He was agnostic on party affiliation, blowing with prevailing political winds.
The precise cause of his fall from grace remains murky. But in early July, a police team went on a midnight raid of his home to arrest him for attempted murder. Tipped off by moles, Dubey was ready. In a gory shootout, Dubey and his henchmen killed eight officers, then slipped away.
This saga may seem preposterous — like a script for a Hollywood or Bollywood potboiler. But what is most extraordinary about the tale is just how banal it is in India, where powerful, thuggish criminals are a cornerstone of grassroots politics.
“There is a Vikas Dubey in probably every district across India,” says Milan Vaishnav, author of When Crime Pays: Money and Muscle in Indian Politics. “The nexus between politicians, criminals and police is like an iron triangle.”
Gilles Verniers, a political-science professor at Ashoka University, called Dubey “the prototype of the kind of local muscle that political parties hire or recruit to mobilise votes or conduct their business”. Such figures often meet grim ends once they fall from favour or outlive their usefulness. By then “the incentives of doing away with them are quite high”, he says. “They are repositories of great knowledge about the dirty dealings of parties and politicians.”
The denouement of Dubey’s story followed the prescribed script. After his escape, he was on the run for nearly a week, until he was finally captured at a Hindu temple in a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Some believe his arrest was staged and he had deliberately surrendered in a state where an old political contact is in the government.
That night, he was handed to the Uttar Pradesh police, who were supposed to drive him back to Kanpur to face justice. But, as had been widely predicted on social media, he never made it. Just outside his stronghold, the police shot three bullets into Dubey’s chest.
Police claimed afterwards that Dubey had attempted to grab a firearm and escape their custody after their car overturned when a driver swerved to avoid a herd of cattle. Authorities did not explain why such a dangerous man would not have been handcuffed for the journey.
Few Indians believe this convoluted account of his death, which came a day after another of his henchmen was killed in transit in similar circumstances. In that case, the police vehicle transporting the slain suspect had allegedly developed a flat tire. To most, the tale of Dubey’s attempted escape was a barely plausible figleaf for a deliberate and premeditated killing, either as an act of vengeance or to silence him, and ensure he could not spill the secrets of his erstwhile political patrons.
Dubey is said to be the 119th criminal suspect gunned down by Uttar Pradesh police since 2017, when controversial Hindu cleric Yogi Adityanath took charge as the state’s chief minister. The fiery leader has projected himself as a strongman willing to do what it takes to end lawlessness and impunity — even if it means transgressing democratic norms.
Last year, his administration even touted the rising number of extrajudicial killings — known in local parlance as “encounter killings” — as one of its big achievements, proof of its ability to “bring justice by any means necessary”.
But the Dubey saga is a powerful reminder that in India, law and order may not always go hand in hand.
Source: – Financial Times
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