Ahead of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections, a BJP poster made news for showing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath riding a tiger and other parties' leaders riding a donkey each. Yogi's fondness for tigers is well known, but in hindsight, the chief minister seems to be riding a metaphorical tiger " and he does not know how to get off its back. The tiger here is the utter disregard for rule of law, masquerading as populist machoism.
Adityanath is largely perceived as a saffron-garbed politician who had scant regard for law of the land. Now he is chief minister, but his past image remains undiluted. The killing of police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh in mob frenzy in Bulandshahr on Monday is nothing but a corollary to the utter lawlessness his governance has unleashed.
If you look at the manner in which the fearless inspector was lynched by a hate mob, you will find a pattern that is, once again, indicative of criminalisation of governance and depraved political culture. Singh was killed for doing his duty. He was brave enough to stand up to the bloodthirsty goons who camouflaged themselves as gau rakshaks (cow protectors) to create a disturbance in the communally-sensitive district of Bulandshahr. Trying to pacify the crowd, he found himself surrounded by criminals. His colleagues deserted him, leaving him to fend for himself.
Is this story new? No, not in Uttar Pradesh. In recent years, it has often happened that a police officer honestly and courageously doing his duty found himself in a tricky situation, deserted by his force, and breathed his last.
In 2016, an additional superintendent of police and a station house officer (SHO) were killed by members of a criminalised religious sect patronised by a section of Samajwadi Party (then in power). The two men in uniform were trying to restore order when they were dragged away by sect members and murdered in cold blood. Since the sect leaders claimed to have political patronage of a big SP leader, policemen accompanying the officers meekly ran away.
In 2013, in Kunda area of Pratapgarh district (represented in the state Assembly by formidable political strongman Raghuraj Pratap Singh alias Raja Bhaiyya), Deputy Superintendent of Police Zia Ul Haq was dragged inside a village and killed by a group of people known to be close to the leader. The policemen accompanying the officer thought it wise to save their own lives, leaving him at the mercy of the murderers. The subsequent investigation and arrest of some of the accused proved to be a timid affair. This shameful incident also took place when the Samajwadi Party was in power and Akhilesh Yadav was chief minister.
Akhilesh as well as his predecessors, Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav, have been known to give law and order a short shrift: encouraging lawlessness and patronising musclemen. The state, for long, has a reputation as a basket case. That is why people had high hopes from Adityanath. Perhaps nobody was better placed than him to purge the state of a culture of politics and administration bordering on abject lawlessness.
When Adityanath came to power after the 2017 Assembly election, he had an unprecedented mandate and full endorsement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In sharp contrast to Akhilesh, Mulayam and Mayawati, whose names have been mentions in scandals and corruption, Adityanath enjoyed a clean reputation. However, his biggest handicap was his image: of an impetuous communal leader not averse to taking the law in his hands through his band of supporters who floated a private militia called Hindu Yuva Vahini. In Gorakhpur, Mau and Azamgarh, they were known for running amuck on issues pertaining to Hindu-Muslim conflicts.
Apparently, Adityanath in his role as the chief minister, pandered to this beast of lawlessness instead of containing it. Just after his swearing in, there was a spike in the membership of the Hindu Yuva Vahini. Realising that the outfit may cause serious trouble, he disbanded it. These supporters then became cow vigilantes and started running a parallel administration in many parts of the state, particularly in communally-sensitive districts.
But what appears to be Adityanath's ultimate folly is his endorsement of a culture of governance in which rule of law is expedient to the political objective. For instance, his chest-thumping approval of the state police that launched a "killing spree" by staging encounters with "criminals" has completely delegitimised governance. In people's imagination, Adityanath appears to be a sequel to his predecessors and a protector of their depraved legacy. The only difference is that the lawlessness has only worsened. In today's context, 'law of jungle' will be a euphemism for lawlessness in the country's largest state.
Adityanath, who still presides over the Gorakhnath Peeth, the biggest temporal seat of the Nath sampradaya, is a spiritually trained believer in karmic laws that sustain the worldly order. So, he should know well the universal law of karma: You reap what you sow.