On July 2, an Uttar Pradesh police team attempting to arrest gangster Vikas Dubey found themselves in an ambush. A shootout ensued. By the end, a deputy superintendent of police, three sub-inspectors and four constables lay dead – but Dubey escaped. He was arrested only a week later, on Thursday morning.

How was Dubey able to plan such a deadly attack on the police? According to the Uttar Pradesh police, the gangster may have been tipped off about the raid by sympathisers in the Kanpur police.

This isn’t the first time Dubey has pulled off a brazen crime. In 2001, he shot dead a state minister named Santosh Shukla inside a police station. His trial turned out to be a farce. Every witness – 25 policemen among them – turning hostile, leading to Dubey being acquitted.

Both incidents reveal the close links between crime, politics and the police in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Dubey’s incredible clout comes from being close to power. The gangster controlled a significant number of Brahmin-dominated villages in the Kanpur rural area. This meant that he could influence elections – ranging from panchayat polls to parliamentary ones. This may have contributed to his strong control over the local police.

None of this is new for Uttar Pradesh. While politics and crime exist in nexus all across India, this link is especially visible in India’s largest state. It is not surprising that when the Bharatiya Janata Party won the 2017 Assembly election, one of its most appealing promises was that it would reduce crime.

A solution worse than the problem

Unfortunately, the strategy chosen the administration to solve the problem has made things worse. Since he became chief minister, Chief Minister Adityanath of the Bharatiya Janata Party has pushed a policy of “encounters” – an Indian euphemism for the police murdering alleged criminals without actually putting the case up for a legal trial.

As of December 2019, the Uttar Pradesh police force has been involved in 5,178 violent engagements, leaving 103 people dead. When the Uttar Pradesh police released these figures, they claimed, “Jungle raj is a thing of the past.”

However, this is far from true, as the killing of the eight policemen shows. Not only is crime alive and kicking in Uttar Pradesh, the policy of arbitrary encounters by the police has failed to snap the strong links between members of the force and criminals. In fact, by giving the police arbitrary power, it makes the problem worse. In 2018, for example, an India Today investigation found that Uttar Pradesh policemen, responding to the Adiyanath’s government’s policy endorsing encounters, were framing innocent people.

There are no shortcuts to establishing rule of law. Making Uttar Pradesh a more just place will take the hard work of getting the police to function within the law – not above it.