LUCKNOW: When Yogi Adityanath announced a month after becoming the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh that "Agar apradh karenge to thok diye jayenge" (if you commit a crime, you will be knocked off), few took him seriously.
In the past three decades, after all, crime and politics had become inseparable in that state and the relationship has only strengthened everyday with criminals turning politicians.
Adityanath, known as a 'strong nonsense' man in Gorakhpur, proudly informed journalists in January that more than 3,000 encounters had taken place in his regime in which 69 criminals were gunned down, 838 sustained injuries and 7,043 were arrested. And as the government completed two years in office, as many as 11,981 criminals got their bails cancelled and surrendered in court.
Though the opposition ridiculed the Chief Minister's "thoko policy" during the campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, the Chief Minister was hardly unnerved by the criticism.
"The message from the top is that no criminal is to be spared. There is no political pressure on the force and organised crime has already receded to a large extent. Even when murders have taken place, the criminals have been arrested within no time," Director General of Police (DGP) O.P. Singh said.
According to police sources, another reason for the check on crime in Uttar Pradesh has been demonetisation.
"After demonetisation, cash transactions reduced drastically and money in the underworld does not come through cheques and drafts. The immediate impact of demonetisation could be seen in the involvement of criminals in real estate, too. The builder-criminal nexus got diluted and we were left to deal mainly with hate crimes," said a senior police officer.
Officials give full marks to Adityanath for not allowing any interference in matters related to police.
"There was a case when a well-known criminal was arrested and a senior BJP leader asked us to dilute the charges against him so that he could get bail. We informed the Chief Minister and he asked us to simply ignore the 'recommendation'. The result is that the criminal is still in jail and has been refused bail twice," said an officer.
Adityanath's encounter policy, however, has also raised questions. Last year, a news portal published a ground report in which it claimed that 14 encounters in western Uttar Pradesh were found to be "pre-planned".
"Out of the 14 cases of police encounter killings that the portal investigated in four districts of western UP, 11 had the same pattern. The victims were in the age group of 17 to 40. They were all undertrials in a number of cases. Just before each encounter, the police received a tip-off about their location.
"They were either on a bike or a car. As soon as the police tried to stop them on the road, they started firing. In retaliatory fire, the accused received bullet injuries and were declared dead on arrival at the hospital," the report said.
Taking cognizance of the report, the Office of the High Commissioner for United Nations Human Rights (UHCHR) sent a letter expressing its concern over "these extra-judicial killings".
However, Adityanath remained unfazed. "The fact remains that criminals have gone into hiding or are in jail. People are feeling safe and secure. In dealing with the law and order, we have not even spared our own party workers if they have been involved. Strict action is taken in cases of crime. Those who are criticising us should look back at the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) regimes when extortion, murder and rape were the order of the day," he said.
Adityanath has also taken care to ensure that he is not blamed for sparing Thakurs -- his own community members who are on the other side of law.
It is noteworthy that another Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, V.P. Singh, had resigned in 1982 after the Behmai massacre in which dacoit Phoolan Devi had gunned down 21 Thakurs. Singh stepped down after the incident following tremendous pressure from his community members.
Adityanath, however, sent BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar, a Thakur, to jail after he was charged with rape. Sengar still remains behind the bars after 13 months.
The Chief Minister also showed no sympathy to Munna Bajrangi after he was shot dead in Baghpat jail. Munna Bajrangi a.k.a. Prem Prakash Singh was also a Thakur.
Another mafia don, Brijesh Singh, who is also a prominent Thakur leader, has been denied permission to attend Assembly sessions. He is a member of the state Legislative Council.