When Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal on Sunday accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of failing to protect the life of a Hindu following the shooting on of Apple executive Vivek Tiwari in Lucknow by a police constable on Saturday, the Aam Aadmi Party leader’s rivals immediately accused him of politicising the issue.

Despite these protestations, there is no denying that Kejriwal had hit home with his tweets. Tiwari was shot dead ostensibly because he failed to stop for a routine police check. The alacrity with which the Adityanath Yogi government responded to the growing anger over Tiwari’s killing was evidence that the BJP was on the back foot on this issue, especially since the party prides itself on representing Hindus. What made it worse was that the victim belonged to the Brahmin caste, which has traditionally supported the saffron party.

It wasn’t just the opposition that was alarmed by Tiwari’s killing. His death provided a trigger to angry BJP leaders to go public with their grievances with Adityanath’s government. Kalraj Mishra, former Union minister and a prominent Brahmin face of the saffron party, openly condemned the killing, describing it as a blot on the state government.

He said the incident showed the criminal mentality of the police personnel that needs to be controlled, suggesting that they had the sanction of the state’s political leadership. Besides Mishra, another dozen-odd BJP upper caste legislators are also learnt to have written to the chief minister expressing their unhappiness over the death.

Growing anger

The reaction of the upper caste BJP leaders is a reflection of the growing anger among the Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh. They have been complaining that the chief minister has been promoting members of the Thakur community to which he belongs and ignoring the Brahmins. Lately, upper castes in Uttar Pradesh and several other Northern states have been upset with the BJP for restoring the strict provisions of the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that had been struck down by the Supreme Court on the grounds that this law was being misused. The BJP was forced to bring in an amendment following protests from Dalits who felt the law to safeguard them had been diluted.

Finding himself on a weak wicket, it was not surprising that Adtiyanath Yogi deployed the party’s Brahmin leaders to mollify the angry Tiwari family and send out a message to the upper castes that the BJP values their support. Deputy chief minister Dinesh Sharma and labour minister Brajesh Pathak were, therefore, entrusted with the task of placating the Tiwari family following instructions from New Delhi that the chief minister moves quickly to end this controversy.

Tiwari’s killing has the potential of alienating not only the upper castes but also the urban middle class that has backed the BJP. The anger forced the BJP government to move swiftly to take corrective measures. The chief minister lost no time in dismissing the two policemen involved in the incident, ordering an inquiry and meeting Tiwari’s wife Kalpana and accepting all her demands, including enhanced compensation and a government job for her.

Other encounters

This is in sharp contrast to the Uttar Pradesh government’s response to the victims of the increasing number of “police encounters” reported since Adityanath Yogi came to power in 2017. Over 1,100 so-called encounters were reported in 10 months after Adityanath Yogi took office in which the police claimed to open fire on criminals in self-defence. Thirty four people were killed and 265 injured in these shootings. The National Human Rights Commission has issued several notices to the state government regarding these encounters and even noted that the police personnel was misusing their power because they believed they had the backing of their seniors. The fact that the victims in these instances were primarily Muslims and Dalits has also been pointed out.

However, Adityanath refused to admit to the fact that the police were involved in fake encounters. On the other hand, he justified police action on the plea that he wanted to weed out criminal elements and make the state a safer place.

Opposition reaction

Opposition parties were quick to point fingers at the chief minister for this latest instance of brazen police action.

Demanding a high-level probe into Tewari’s murder and strict action against the errant policemen and senior officers, Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati jumped into the fray, declaring that the latest incident showed that even upper caste people were being harassed by the BJP government. She also announced that she had directed Bahujan Samaj Party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Satish Mishra (her party’s Brahmin face) to meet the Tiwari family and offer them legal help.

Former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav of the Samajwadi Janata Party also spoke in the same vein while former Congress president Sonia Gandhi called up Tiwari’s wife Kalpana to condole with her about husband’s death.