In the latest episode of cow-related violence in Uttar Pradesh, police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh and a 20 year-old man, Sumit Kumar, were killed in Bulandshahr district on Monday.

Singh, the station house officer of the police post in Chingrawathi village, died while pacifying a mob that had gathered in the wake of reports that cow carcasses had been found in a field in neighbouring Mahaw village. The mob had turned violent, pelting stones at the police and even firing at them. Singh’s lifeless body was later found in a police vehicle. It was initially reported that Kumar was dropping off a cousin near the police post and was hit by a stray bullet. But videos that emerged on Wednesday suggested he had been part of the mob.

On the day of the incident, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath ordered an investigation into the killings. But subsequent statements and comments suggested a shift in the focus of the investigation. Following a “high-level meeting” with state and police officials on Tuesday, Adityanath said he wanted “the incident” investigated with seriousness and demanded “strictest action against everyone involved in cow slaughter”. He also reminded district administrators to enforce the 2017 ban on illegal slaughterhouses. The police, on their part, said they suspected the violence was part of a “big conspiracy”. On Friday, Adityanath declared Singh’s death an “accident”.

In the days after the violence, a few of the accused, while on the run from the police, released videos. In one video, Bharatiya Janata Party member Shikhar Agarwal alleged Singh was corrupt and blamed the violence on him. Several high-ranking policemen told the press categorically that their priority was to investigate the alleged cow slaughter, and not the death of one of their own.

Privately, some of them called up Prakash Singh, a former director general of the Uttar Pradesh Police and Border Security Force and currently, chairman of the research organisation Indian Police Foundation and Institute. In an interview with Scroll.in, Prakash Singh said the policemen were “dismayed” by the message being sent out. “The emphasis should have been on investigating the death of the police officer,” he said. “No matter what the provocation – even cow slaughter – mob violence is not to be tolerated.” He also spoke about the case, how the investigation has been handled, and about policing in general in Uttar Pradesh.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

Prakash Singh, former director general of the Uttar Pradesh Police and Border Security Force, has criticised the police handling of the Bulandshahr violence.
Prakash Singh, former director general of the Uttar Pradesh Police and Border Security Force, has criticised the police handling of the Bulandshahr violence.

What are your impressions of the case and how it is being handled, both by the police and the state government?
It is a very unfortunate incident and I do not think it has been handled properly. First, we are told there was a conspiracy. If there was a conspiracy, it should have been possible for local intelligence to know that such plans were being made and preventive action could have been taken.

Also, there seems to be an impression among cow protection vigilantes that they can take the law into their own hands and get away with it. If there was an incident of cow slaughter, they should have reported it to the authorities and left it to them to take action. Instead, they went on the rampage, damaged vehicles and attacked the police. If a cow was killed, it does not mean you kill a human being and certainly not an inspector who represents the authority of the state. It only shows that cow vigilantes are going berserk.

It is high time the state government realises that its commitment to preventing cow slaughter is understandable but that does not mean giving a long rope to a certain group of people. The authority of the state has to be exercised in a proper lawful manner and not by letting a group of people think they are the custodians of the law and have the right to take whatever action they want.

Since December 4, statements from both the government and senior police officers suggest there is an attempt to shift the focus of the investigation, away from the officer’s death and to the alleged cow slaughter. What are the implications of this for the police force, their morale and their ability to discharge their duties?
The press release the state government issued [on December 4] seems to have created this confusion. It talked of how they have to investigate the cow slaughter. But you have to analyse what state government officers are doing on the ground and I would say action is being taken on both fronts – cow slaughter and also the mob violence. According to The Indian Express, they are in touch with the Jammu and Kashmir Police and are investigating the role of an Armyman who may have been involved in the violence. So, action is being taken on both fronts.

I also want to say, I have seen Adityanath from close quarters and have known him personally. He is a very clean, well-intentioned person who wants to do the right thing. The problem is, today we have officers in the bureaucracy and the police who do not have the courage to give the right advice. Given the right advice, he always listens. I do not want to give instances, but there have been occasions when I have given him some advice and it was against what he had heard till then but he listened to me and acted accordingly. The problem is that the officers do not have the courage. They just want to stand with the current or the current as they see it.

About statements from police officers, I would say these officers are unprofessional and they do not know what kind of statements to give and what kind of priorities to give their own responsibilities. I will not defend their actions or statements.

Adityanath called it an “accident”.
I was a little perplexed when I read the statement about it being an accident. It can either be a conspiracy or an accident. It cannot be both. If it was a conspiracy, it was planned over a period of time. We have to be clear about it. This statement is a little difficult to understand in the context of what he had said earlier.

Also, if it was planned over a period of time, who was behind these plans? Elements inimical to the Indian state or its government would be interested in communal incidents wherever they can ignite these and these could be from any group – extreme Right or extreme Left or even Pakistani agents. But whoever it is, we must be interested in knowing the truth, the facts. If the facts do not add up, we must say it was a wrong assertion meant to distract public attention from police inaction. Because we have been witnessing police inaction in some very important cases: a few months ago, there was the Unnao incident [also in Uttar Pradesh] where a girl was raped by an MLA and no action was taken. There was no conspiracy there, it was just that the police were derelict and negligent in the performance of their duties. In this particular instance, if it was a conspiracy, we must know who conspired, and what his intentions were. But a conspiracy theory cannot be cover for police inaction.

And also, if there are too many “accidents”, the state government must introspect. There cannot be too many accidents. If there are too many accidents and they happen at certain periods of time, then something is wrong.

How difficult does such mishandling make policing in general? What is the impact on the police force? One of the accused has released a video accusing Subodh Kumar Singh of trying to cover up the cow slaughter. Yet, no one seems to be reacting appropriately.
Policing in this country is becoming difficult if you go against the political current in the state, whether it is Kerala, Telangana or Uttar Pradesh. There is an impression across the country that policemen have to carry out the orders of the state. The legality of the orders cannot be questioned – whether they are written or orally conveyed, the authority of the state has to be upheld and that is the job of the police force.

I have been saying all along that the police must uphold the rule of law and not the rule laid down by the ruler, and that they can do this only when there is some degree of insulation from extraneous influences. But there is a very formidable wall of resistance from the bureaucracy and politicians to this. They have been treating the police as an instrument to carry out their directions, right or wrong, legal or illegal. To be at their beck and call. Now that this has gone on for 70 years, the police have become used to it. In this ecosystem, people are going to go about doing all kinds of things and making all kinds of allegations against the police.

I have read the statements of officers investigating [the case] and heading the SIT [Special Investigation Team]. Their statements do not seem to inspire confidence and they need to redefine their priorities and say the right words. But they are tom-toming conspiracy theories.

Some police officers in the field have been in touch with me and they were dismayed by the government’s statement. They are wondering what is going on and even asked me to speak up for them and say the emphasis should be on investigating the death of the police officer, that no matter what the provocation – even cow slaughter – mob violence is not to be tolerated. Their apprehension is that junior officers will now say cow slaughter is more important than anything else, even if the police themselves are beaten or killed and government property burnt.

Over the last 10 years to 15 years, the Uttar Pradesh Police have completely messed up. Discipline is poor, morale is low, too much casteism has been injected into the force and there has been bad leadership. Long years of Mayawati, Mulayam [Singh Yadav] and Akhilesh [Yadav] have caused havoc with the police. Internally, it has atrophied.