The brazen gunning down of gangster-politician Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf outside a hospital in Prayagraj, when they were surrounded by police personnel and amidst a large media presence, raises many troubling questions. It has also given rise to many interesting theories. Was this a pre-planned murder or a reflection of the utter inefficiency of the UP administration and police? Also why did a routine medical check-up have to take place at night? If the accused had complained of serious ailments warranting a sudden trip to the hospital, why were they not taken in an ambulance but instead made to walk? The presence of the media is also puzzling as they would have to have been informed of the hospital visit to be present there. Is there some truth to the theory that the murders were carefully orchestrated to divert attention from an interview with former Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik that is making waves? Malik has blamed the attack on a CRPF convoy in Pulwama in 2019 on lapses by the Home Ministry and said he had also told the Prime Minister Narendra Modi about it but the PM asked him to be silent on the issue.
Only two days earlier Atiq Ahmed’s son Asad and another person were shot in an alleged police encounter. The number of encounter deaths since Yogi Adityanath took over as chief minister has increased exponentially. The murder of Umesh Pal, a key witness in the murder case of BSP MLA Raju Pal, which led to a fiery exchange between Opposition leader Akhilesh Yadav and Adityanath in the UP Assembly, triggered this whole sequence of events concerning Atiq Ahmed. The media had a ringside view of the drama surrounding his transfer from Sabarmati jail to Prayagraj with the television media milking the episode to the hilt, following him even during his rest room stops. He had expressed his serious apprehensions about a threat to his life. The Supreme Court was moved on the issue and the top court had given an assurance that his safety was the responsibility of the UP government.
The state administration has failed miserably in its duty to protect convicts in its custody. There can be no cogent explanation for the lapses that permitted three men in the guise of media personnel to slip into the contingent surrounding Atiq Ahmed and his brother and shoot at them from point blank range despite the strong police presence. This has come as a godsend to a floundering Opposition which has demanded an independent inquiry into the issue. AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi’s claim that only Muslims are the target of such encounters and the administration’s high handedness is borne out by facts. Most of the victims of Yogi’s ‘bulldozer justice’ belong to the minority community. A bulk of the encounters have taken out Muslim gangsters. Akhilesh Yadav’s charge is that the ‘mafia’ of a certain Hindu community has free rein in the state.
The fact is that all political parties are guilty of patronising criminals. Nobody can claim the moral high ground. Atiq Ahmed, a known gangster, was given a Samajwadi Party ticket to contest the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and won from Phulpur, the erstwhile constituency of Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister. Adityanath’s claim that the mafia was allowed to flourish by the Samajwadi Party and other earlier dispensations in UP can be countered by the presence of many criminals in the ranks of BJP legislators. It will require a strong political will to weed out criminals from the electoral arena. Parties irrespective of ideological moorings have a strong quid-pro-quo relationship with criminal elements whether it is funding or the winnability factor.
Getting back to the Atiq Ahmed killing, the incident raises strong doubts about whether the rule of law is prevalent in India’s most populous state. Grand pronouncements about wiping out the mafia from the face of the earth do not inspire confidence that the administration will abide by the judicial system. It is tedious and justice when it is eventually meted out is inordinately delayed. However, this does not give the police or citizens at large the right to act as judge, jury and executioner. If such a practice becomes the norm, India will truly be nothing better than a banana republic.
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