After eight police personnel were killed attempting to arrest gangster Vikas Dubey in Kanpur on July 3, few expected the criminal to be caught alive. There was little faith that the Uttar Pradesh Police under Chief Minister Adityanath would actually follow the law. So when Dubey was arrested in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh on Thursday, it came as an enormous surprise.

Sure enough, soon after the politically connected Dubey was handed over to the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force, he has been killed in custody.

The official line is that he tried to escape when one of the vehicles escorting him back to Uttar Pradesh had an accident and was killed in an “encounter”, the Indian euphemism for an extra-judicial murder by the police.

For the sake of argument, let us take the claims of the Uttar Pradesh Police at face value. Their job, once Dubey was in their custody, was to transport him back to their jurisdiction and then hold him accountable in a court of law for the long list of crimes for which he has been booked.

Instead, the police were unable to handle the simple task of moving him safely from Ujjain to Kanpur. On this count, it is clear that the police has completely failed.

It has not given investigators and the courts the opportunity to interrogate and prosecute Dubey in a manner that would reveal the various networks involving politicians and the police force that have allowed him to carry out his criminal activity all these years.

Take the other interpretation, the one most Indians will believe is more accurate: that Dubey was killed in a revenge murder by the police.

India is no stranger to such extra-judicial killings, which are cheered on by many people and glorified in the movies. Do such actions make us safer and provide real justice?

They emerge out of a lack of faith in the judiciary because many believe that the courts will not provide timely justice. Besides, they encourage arbitrary behaviour from the police. If police personnel are not fettered by the law, they will abuse their power – as we have witnessed in the horrific custodial death case in Tamil Nadu last fortnight and in any number of incidents in Adityanath’s Uttar Pradesh.

Former Indian Police Service officer NC Asthana explained how the expectation that the Uttar Pradesh Police are more likely to attempt extra-judicial killings does not lead to justice but actually results in more violence – as we saw in the killing of eight police personnel by the Dubey gang.

“If Dubey did kill as many as eight [police personnel], it obviously means that he might have sincerely believed that the police party had paid a visit not to arrest him but to eliminate him in an encounter. With the elaborate preparations that they made for the ambush, it appears that opening fire on the police was not an act of reckless bravado. He did it deliberately... 

It would follow that the culture of ‘encounters’ that has been so assiduously built up by the UP police as a way of fighting crime can prove to be horrendously counter-productive.”

No matter which version you believe – that the police was caught unprepared by a road accident that led to a shootout or that it deliberately ensured Dubey would not reach Uttar Pradesh alive – the authorities have failed the cause of justice.