Unnao rape case: The story of an unravelling

Print edition : August 30, 2019

Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. Photo: PTI

The case reflects the collapse of law and order in Uttar Pradesh.

The brazen and audacious way in which the police in Uttar Pradesh have shielded Kuldeep Singh Sengar, the MLA accused in the Unnao rape case, and failed to protect the victim may suggest a collapse of the policing machinery in the State. But the malaise, it seems, runs much deeper. Senior political leaders and bureaucrats from Lucknow told Frontline that the Unnao narrative could be a part of a larger political game plan to discredit Yogi Adityanath, whom the party high command apparently sees as becoming too big for his boots.

The seemingly deliberate delay in taking action, and the alacrity with which the Supreme Court ordered action, thoroughly debunking the entire administrative machinery in the State, is unprecedented. If there are any conspiracies involved, the tragic thing is that the young victim continues to suffer. She has lost most of her family and is now struggling for her life. The State’s police machinery has been shown up as having grown into an entity that is now beyond control.Uttar Pradesh has a purportedly untainted Chief Minister who has led an ascetic’s life and headed a math. It is ironical that in this State the administration sat on the complaint of the rape of a minor and failed to register a case for nine months.

The case appears strange when one reflects that the accused happened to be merely an MLA and not known to be close to the Chief Minister; nor was he known outside his district. He was certainly not in the league of a Raja Bhaiya or a Shahabuddin. He did not seem to share any ideological affinity with the Chief Minister, too. Why then were the police allegedly bending over backwards to save his skin? Political observers in Uttar Pradesh say that the police and the political establishment in Uttar Pradesh often do not not work in tandem. “The police machinery in the State under the present police chief, O.P. Singh, has grown into an independent entity, controlled by self-seeking middlemen, acting on its own, at times not heeding advice or even orders from the Chief Minister’s Office,” a senior retired police officer told Frontline. He added that it was now an open secret that the Chief Minister is not in control of the police machinery anymore. “He cannot remove the police chief, even if he wants to,” he said.

There are many reasons for this turn of events. But the most important thing is that the Chief Minister has apparently fallen out with the party high command.

Senior BJP leaders recall that relations between the Chief Minister and the party high command in Delhi (read, the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo), showed signs of strains even before the Lok Sabha election. Yogi Adityanath, who had emerged as a star campaigner in various Assembly elections, was much in demand for campaigning by various State units. In December 2018, posters with with Modi’s and Yogi’s pictures on it, with the slogans “jumlebaazi ka naam Modi, Hindutva ka brand Yogi” sprang up mysteriously all over Lucknow overnight at crucial locations. They were by an outfit called Uttar Pradesh Navnirman Sena. The government swung into action immediately and took down all the posters. A first information report (FIR) was also filed. But the damage had already been done. “Since then, the Chief Minister has been facing problems with the high command, which could have removed him immediately, but apparently it wants him to be discredited before doing that,” said a senior officer.

The bureaucratic and the police machinery are remote-controlled by the authorities in Delhi. “Transfers and postings are being managed from Delhi and that explains many square pegs in round holes,” said an officer, adding that the situations like the one now being witnessed arise when the administrative machinery breaks down.

Prakash Singh, former Direcctor General of Police, Uttar Pradesh, who has also worked as chief of the Border Security Force (BSF) and now heads the Indian Police Foundation, said: “The sequence of events and the delay in the case make one thing absolutely clear, that there was a clear collusion of the police system with petty political leaders to deny justice to a rape victim. But kowtowing to an MLA, right from the thana to the DGP level, is something I find surprising. I cannot understand how a DGP could give a clean chit to a rape accused, address him as mananiya vidhayakaji and how he could describe the car crash as prima facie an accident, knowing fully well that this would be treated as a message for the officials down below, impacting the investigation?”

Prakash Singh added that the way in which the Supreme Court had shown a lack of faith in any State agency, from police to hospitals, from security to judiciary, was a huge slap on the State government’s face. “In any other State, the DGP would have been removed immediately,” he said.

The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister seems to be caught in a web of his own making, The Bulandshahar incident of December 2018 is a case in point when a police inspector, Subodh Kumar, was shot dead by a crowd of Hindutva supporters who were bent upon attacking a Muslim place of worship on the suspicion that cow slaughter had taken place there. The sub inspector was trying to pacify the cow vigilantes when he was attacked by the mob and shot dead with his own service pistol. The main accused, Yogesh Raj, a Bajrang Dal activist, remained on the run for many months before being arrested, though he kept posting Facebook and Twitter messages. The Chief Minister did not comment on the incident for many days, and when he did, it was to first condemn cow slaughter.

As the Unnao controversy raged, showing up the police in poor light, senior police officers across the State were busy posting pictures on social media massaging the feet of kanwariyas and showering flower petals on them.

Yogi Adityanath’s government came to power on promises of ending “goonda raj”. Immediately after taking over, the Chief Minister gave a free run to the police to kill criminals. A spate of encounters followed, and 69 people were apparently killed in these “encounters”.

People are now wondering whether this government is serious about ridding the State of criminals or whether it is trying to terrorise innocent citizens into silence about atrocities perpetrated by he powerful.