100 days of Yogi: Adityanath falters on law and order promise in Uttar Pradesh as crime spikes
A petrol pump owner looted; a trader murdered; jewellery shops robbed; a political leader killed; a constable shot; four members of a family -- including two girls -- hacked; a police sub-inspector beaten up; caste clashes erupt.
Glance through local newspapers of Uttar Pradesh, and the headlines would be enough to tell you that the Yogi Adityanath government -- celebrating its 100th day in office on Monday -- is struggling to keep up a promise that played a big role in its thumping election victory: Improving law and order -- an issue that makes and breaks governments in the state.
In these 100 days, Adityanath’s government admits that crime has spiked – it, however, is not panicking yet, believes it can get things under control, and is contemplating tough measures, including ‘encounters’. It wants to maintain order but visibly failed in Saharanpur - where Thakurs and Dalits were locked in violent clashes and tension persisted for weeks. The incident also revealed how the government would confront challenges from its own newly emboldened political constituents.
The spike in crimes
It is early morning. A district superintendent of police is getting late to work. He has to be in office by 9 am. There are strict instructions from Lucknow after all - be in district police headquarter through the day, visit one station every day. There are other circulars too- with one underlying message: Control crime. Yet, he - and many others in the police force -acknowledge crime has spiked. Why? Three broad explanations are being offered.
A top official says this is because the reporting of crimes has increased. “We are encouraging people to come to us. That is why you see an increase in numbers. This is part of improving law and order. Once action begins on them , you will see it serve as a deterrent.”
Another explanation is that this is a period of transition. Aditya Mishra, additional director general of police with direct charge of law and order, told HT: “After the formation of the new government, the police machinery was being overhauled. Criminal gangs are taking benefit of the change in the police set up.”
In the first month, another police source says, the government thought it would not transfer officials, since that would seem like ‘vendetta’. “Then it realised it needed to do so, place the right people in right places. A new team has just taken over in most districts. They need time to settle down, understand their area of operation, build a network.”
The explanation is that the messaging from the top - of a complete crackdown on crime, irrespective of background of those involved - has not percolated down.
“The Samajwadi Party operated on a basic principle. Even if our cadre commits murder, as long as he is our cadre, he has to be protected. This message was clear. The BJP does not have the same ethos on crimes of its cadre. Yogi has told us that do not hesitate to take action against anyone. But it will take time for people on the ground to internalise this,” says a Lucknow-based police official.
A district officer confirms that the messaging, in fact, has to be aggressive. In a meeting with them, the chief minister - the officer said - had gone to the extent of saying if someone commits a crime in one corner, he need not live by the time he arrives at the next corner.
A BJP leader too confirms that this is the message. “Police officials have got scared of encounters because of human rights waalas and Supreme Court. Our message is crack down. Don’t spare anyone. You will see results soon.”
Whether these methods would indeed improve law and order is different, but it indicates how far the government will go to counter the perception and reality of crime.
Chandramohan, a BJP state spokesperson, argues, “It is a big state. Policing has been enmeshed with casteism and corruption. It is taking time. But our systems and message are now in place.”
Watch: 100 days of Yogi Adityanath Govt: what are the challenges for the CM?
The challenge to order
If crimes constitute one challenge for the new government, maintaining order is another. And here, Saharanpur’s caste clashes between the Thakurs and Dalits have been the biggest failure so far.
A highly placed police official candidly admitted, “There is no doubt we failed to act in time. To maintain public order, the key is immediate action, dispersal of the mob, even if force is needed. We were remiss in the initial phase and that escalated.”
Critics however allege that the police had a strong bias towards Thakurs, which government rejects.
But it brings up a larger issue. Does the challenge to public order in UP now come from BJP’s own supporters and affiliates?
A district officer says these groups - from Bajrang Dal to Vishwa Hindu Parishad to Hindu Yuva Vahini - are a nuisance. “There have been instances when on bikes, they have gone aggressively into Muslim areas during azaan. This is terror mongering.” There have also been instances of cow vigilantism.
The official adds that the scale of victory itself has become a problem for the party. “100 of the BJP’s MLAs are probably liabilities for the party. They make demands which will hurt governance.”
This was most visible in a case in Moradabad. A Hindu group alleged that a Hindu girl who had been going for tuitions was being harassed by her Muslim tutor. The girl or her family had not complained. Yet, the local police registered a complaint.
“This was probably done as a way to appease local sympathisers of the party in power, even though there was no instruction from the top,” says a Lucknow-based official.
Another official says the way out is impartiality and prompt action. He gives an example of a killing of a Hindu man in Muzaffanagar recently.
“This could have so easily turned communal - Muslims killing a Hindu in this climate. But we got there on time, promised action, gave a sense justice would be done, and things calmed down. Ensuring rule of law is the only way. We have the chief minister’s backing on this. He has told supporters to behave.”
If 100 days are an indication, chief minister Yogi Adityanath will confront the same challenge as his predecessors - bringing down crime, and tackling challenges to order and harmony, including from his own supporters. The start was not auspicious.
This article is the first of a three-part series by HT that tracks the progress of the Uttar Pradesh government as it completes 100 days in office.