The killing of eight policemen in Kanpur on the night of July 2 by accomplices of gangster Vikas Dubey is too tragic for words. My personal sense of loss is deep even though I am no longer a serving member of the Uttar Pradesh Police, a force I had the honour to lead until April 2017. My former colleagues have fallen to a hail of bullets from a desperado whose unprovoked action continues to baffle me. Why did he do it?

Vikas Dubey, as it now emerges, was a beneficiary of the police-political nexus that has taken deep roots in Uttar Pradesh over the last few decades. What prompted him to disturb the equilibrium that gave him the space to be a criminal, a land grabber, a political power broker, a Brahmin Robin Hood all at the same time?

Let me try to explain. Dubey is a resident of the rural Kanpur area Chaubepur. He started his career in the early 1990s when his disdain for the law and proclivity for taking matters into his own hands brought him the patronage of a very senior local politician, who was in the ruling party at the time.

This breakthrough was critical for young Dubey. He entered local power structures and began to understand their dynamics. He would play them to his advantage over the next 25-30 years. He became nimble-footed at swinging from one ascendant political party to another, an essential talent in the 1990s and 2000s. Meanwhile, he continued to grab land from helpless, hapless owners in the rapidly urbanising Chaubepur area. Political patronage gave him the cover he needed from any conscientious police officer.

Senior police officer Prashant Kumar visits Bikhru village where the clash with gangster Vikas Dubey's men left eight policemen dead on July 1. Credit: PTI

Police station murder

Soon, he realised that his political ambitions would stay unfulfilled as long as local Bharatiya Janata Party leader Santosh Shukla was active. Shukla was also a Brahmin and vying to lead the same core vote bank. In addition, he had political seniority on his side. Confident of political support, Dubey murdered Shukla, who had by then become a minister-level functionary, inside the Shivli police station in 2001.

The police response to this criminal and its actions since then offer many lessons for those who believe that the police will be free from political interference if police chiefs are given stable tenures and if Establishment Boards are set up to decide on transfers, postings, promotions and other matters.

Vikas Dubey’s alliance with the police can fill up many pages but I will be short, and start with the Shukla’s murder. The investigation declared him an accused and he was charge-sheeted. But during trial, all eyewitnesses, mostly honourable Uttar Pradesh Police personnel turned hostile and he was acquitted for lack of evidence. This despite shooting down a minister-level government functionary inside a police station.

What was the prosecution doing? The District Government Council, a political appointee, should have been hauled up. The District Magistrate who is in-charge of prosecution should have asked questions. Instead, it was decided that no appeal would be filed against the acquittal.

After that, Dubey faced another trial in a murder of a school principal in 2000, in which he got a life sentence in 2004. Curiously, a man with a criminal history of over 60 cases, including multiple cases of murder, and under the Gangster Act was found fit to be given bail soon after. He was back in Chaubepur. He was also reportedly provided with police protection. Why did none of the drives against criminals under various governments reach Vikas Dubey?

Police personnel in Bikhru village where the clash with gangster Vikas Dubey's men left eight policemen dead on July 1. Credit: PTI

Brahmin strongman

By then, Vikas Dubey had been able to build a reputation of controlling over two dozen Brahmin-dominated villages in the Chaubepur area. Only his nominee could become the pradhan in these villages. He would dispense patronage through his proximity to power. After all, if he could get 20 pradhans elected unopposed, he was worth almost one lakh votes, enough to win a legislative assembly seat and significantly impact a parliamentary election.

Would the local police, whose station house officer was routinely posted at the behest of the local political masters, and who were Dubey’s patrons, dare to throw the book at him? The equilibrium had to be maintained. Policing is no more a maintenance of law and order. The remit of the police is only to maintain order. As long as Dubey did not disturb this equilibrium, order was not disturbed. The state capital of Lucknow was too far away to either know or care.

Most recently, Dubey had been arrested in 2018 for murdering a cousin, but got bail in February.

What is now clear is that two or three days before the tragedy, a new officer became the Senior Superintendent of Police Kanpur and declared a reward of Rs 25,000 for Dubey. Before this, the dreaded criminal had no bounty on his head. For a police force that makes the declaration of a reward the barometer of the “dread quotient” of a criminal, this considerate behaviour over a period of time is telling.

When the police party, led by Circle Officer Devender Mishra planned to raid Dubey in his lair on July 1, the Kanpur Police had unilaterally broken the entente. It is only to be expected that someone on Dubey’s payroll inside the Kanpur Police gave him a tip-off. Dubey laid an ambush.

I grieve for my fallen comrades. I also bemoan a system that lies emaciated and is crying for a remedy. I sincerely hope that police response will be professional, and not driven by anger. Investigators will have a challenging job linking Dubey to the incident to the satisfaction of the courts.

Javeed Ahmad is a former Director General of the Uttar Pradesh Police.