In life and in death, former lawmaker Atiq Ahmed typified the collapse of the rule of law in Uttar Pradesh. The visuals of both him and his brother Khalid Azim being shot dead in cold blood, on Saturday, while they were handcuffed and in police custody, show the abject lawlessness that prevails in the State. Early in March, Ahmed had approached the Supreme Court of India expressing fear that he might be “killed in a fake encounter on one pretext or the other by the U.P. Police”. The Court refused to entertain his plea. His son, Asad Ahmad, was killed in an alleged encounter with a U.P. police team on Thursday in Jhansi. Father and son were both accused in the sensational daylight murder of a political rival in February. Ahmed, the former leader of the Samajwadi Party and Apna Dal opened his history sheet at the age of 17 and had more than 100 criminal cases at the time of his murder at the age of 60. Far from facing the force of law, he reigned supreme as a don-cum-politician through various regimes in U.P. since the 1990s. Even when he went to jail, his empire of crime did not collapse. He was shifted to a prison in Gujarat in 2019, and on his return to U.P., was facing fresh charges of murder which ended with his own killing in the most chilling manner.
According to the U.P. police, 183 alleged criminals have been gunned down in encounters in the last six years. More than 10,900 police encounters have taken place since March 2017. Due process is central to any rule of law, and once that is allowed to be short-circuited, the result is chaos. The U.P. police and administration have stretched the limits of its legitimate power by the dubious and discriminatory application of law and processes. The demolition of properties of people suspected of crime or participating in political protest has become routine. It appears that this practice is popular among the supporters of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and that makes this trend not merely lawlessness but also a social pathology. Several political parties have sought accountability in the double murder that took place under the watch of the U.P. police. The State has announced a three-member commission headed by a former High Court judge to inquire into the lapses. Considering the serious charges that the State government and its police face of discrimination based on religion and caste, and scant regard for due process, an inquiry of a demonstrably independent nature is required.