A group of 87 former bureaucrats on Friday criticised the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Uttar Pradesh administration for the “blatant violation of rule of law” and the breakdown of governance.

In an open letter, the signatories highlighted Uttar Pradesh’s use of criminal charges to crush dissent, extrajudicial killings in the state, misuse of anti-conversion laws against minority communities, legitimisation of vigilantes and shortcomings in Covid-19 management.

“We note with mounting alarm that the present ruling regime in UP has ushered in a model of governance which swerves further and further away from the values of the Constitution and the rule of law with each passing day,” the former bureaucrats said.

The signatories alleged that all branches of administration in Uttar Pradesh had collapsed. “We fear that, unless checked now, the damage to the polity and institutions in the state will result in the decay and destruction of democracy itself,” they said.

The former civil servants highlighted how Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Adityanath’s government used force against those who protested the Citizenship Amendment Act last year.

“Even as peaceful protests broke out countrywide against CAA, NRC [National Register of Citizens] and NPR [National Population Register], the UP government stood out by responding almost immediately with an armoury of repression, including police attacks on peacefully protesting students in Aligarh Muslim University, including using stun grenades, normally deployed against terrorists, and tear gas shells, filing 10,900 FIRs against protestors and resort to police firing killing 22 people,” they said.

The signatories also pointed out how hoardings showing the photos of activists and civil society members accused of damaging public property and inciting violence were put up in Lucknow last year.

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“Arbitrary detentions and torture of and police attacks on peacefully protesting students, minorities, dissenters and others be stopped forthwith and recoveries for alleged damage to property under an “arbitrary” law be discontinued,” they demanded.

Speaking about extrajudicial killings in the state, the bureaucrats said that according to police data, 124 alleged criminals were shot dead in 6,476 “encounters” from 2017 to 2020.

“The encounter campaign led by Adityanath crosses new lines, because data shows that most of those killed in these encounters are either petty criminals or innocents, against whom no charge has been proven,” the signatories said, citing news reports. “They are also predominantly Muslims, Dalits and other backward castes. The fact that a significantly disproportionate percentage of those killed till August 2020 were Muslims carries its own message.”

The former civil servants pointed out how the anti-conversion law allowed the police to file arbitrary cases against Muslim men who were married to Hindu women or had relationships with them.

Uttar Pradesh is among a host of BJP -ruled states that have enacted anti-conversion laws to penalise “love jihad” – a pejorative term coined by the right-wing groups to push the conspiracy theory that Muslim men charm Hindu women into marrying them with the sole purpose of converting their brides to Islam.

In just a month after the Ordinance, 86 people were booked in 16 cases alleging conversion for love or marriage among Hindu women and Muslim men,” the former bureaucrats said. “54 people were arrested, including friends and family members of the main accused. The key accused in all the cases are Muslim men. “This idea of “love jihad” – without legal empirical or official basis – must be jettisoned.”

The former bureaucrats, then, criticised the Uttar Pradesh government for its mismanagement of the Covid-19 crisis. They spoke about the crumbling health facilities in rural areas , deaths due to oxygen shortage and bodies being spotted in rivers and buried in graves along banks.

“The world bore witness to the catastrophe that the people of UP had to endure owing to the failure of the government to act in time,” they said. “The world bore witness to the catastrophe that the people of UP had to endure owing to the failure of the government to act in time. Reports from crematoria show that across districts, deaths are being massively undercounted in Uttar Pradesh.”

The former bureaucrats pointed out how Adityanath denied that there was an oxygen shortage in the state and said that those making such claims publicly will be arrested for spreading false information.

The group demanded that the Uttar Pradesh government stop harassing those who highlight inadequacies in the state’s health system.