Vikas Dubey’s mysterious death | HT Editorial
Vikas Dubey is dead. On Thursday, when he was arrested in Ujjain, this newspaper argued that his arrest must mark the beginning — not the end — of the story about the nexus between politics and crime in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and a broken administrative and police system. But there appear to have been forces which did not want that story told. On Friday morning, in highly mysterious circumstances, Dubey died, and so did the story he may have told.
It is important to reiterate first principles here. Dubey was a gang lord; his list of crimes was long; he allegedly led the attack and killing on eight policemen in Kanpur last week. Such a man deserved to be punished for his crimes. But India prides itself on the rule of law. When a crime is allegedly committed, a process kicks in. The perpetrator is arrested, contingent on judicial sanction. Suspects are questioned. Evidence is amassed. Interrogations are conducted. A case is built up. The court examines the evidence and testimonies; the defendant has a right to legal defence. On the merits of the case, based on the law, the judiciary hands down its decision, which can then be appealed against. In a civilised society, this process is undertaken, not just because the guilty is presumed to be innocent until convicted, but because this is the only way to sustain the legitimacy of the system and prevent arbitrary exercise of power. Even Ajmal Kasab, caught red-handed in the 26/11 attacks, got a trial.
In UP, there appears to be a pattern where this process is, often, not followed. There have been a spate of extrajudicial killings — encounters, in popular parlance — since the current government took office in 2017. This is attributed to a stern approach where patience for due process is limited. Even before Friday, this impatience with process, the desire to satiate the thirst for instant justice, as well as, more controversially, ensure Dubey did not speak about his political and bureaucratic linkages were being seen as factors that would cut short his life. The circumstances of his death — he was shifted into another vehicle before the shoot-out; journalists following the convoy were stopped before the encounter took place; the absence of evidence to show how his car overturned — will only add motive to mystery. If UP wants to set an example, it must institute an independent probe on the manner of Dubey’s killing and his entire network. India may have one less criminal today, but it has also fallen short of its own principles.