Exclusive interview: 'There is an atmosphere of fear,' says Akhilesh Yadav

Killing someone in police custody is murder of justice itself, he says

31-Akhilesh-Yadav Akhilesh Yadav | Pawan Kumar

Q/ Do you see a breakdown of law and order given that people are being killed in police custody?

A/ It is not just a breakdown of law and order; the entire system has collapsed. How many incidents does one count? In 2018, inspector Subodh Kumar Singh was killed by their own man (a right-wing leader). A businessman, Balwant Singh, was killed in custody (December 2022, Kanpur). The government promised crores [of rupees] in financial aid and a government job to his wife, but nothing happened. Pushpendra Yadav (October 2019, Jhansi) was killed in a fake encounter and his wife ultimately killed herself when there was no justice…. Who in this world will believe that the van carrying [gangster] Vikas Dubey overturned on its own and he was killed when trying to escape? They use terms like ‘Amrit Kaal’, ‘Ram Rajya’, but this is the reality of what is happening on the ground. Where does a common man go for justice? If we were to believe that this killing was the work of criminals working on their own or that it was a government conspiracy, in both scenarios the government has no moral right to remain in power. Killing someone in police custody is the murder of justice itself.

Social media has exploded with comments, one of which is that if two criminals were killed, three (the killers) were born.

Q/ What has made the police so brazen?

A/ Every day this government spews a fresh lie. And to turn that lie into truth, the entire media is hired. In six years, the state might not have grown, but the budget allocated for magazines and television has increased. There is just one aim―the truth should not come out. The National Crime Records Bureau data is in front of us. The chief minister’s claims are completely contradictory to that. It is the state that feeds data to the NCRB, yet the chief minister says something else.

Why will the police not be brazen in a state where the chief minister uses phrases such as ‘thok do’ [kill them]? When he said ‘mitti mein mila dunga’ [I will run them into the ground] in the house, I asked the Speaker if such language was becoming of a chief minister. As the leader of the opposition, it is my duty to raise these issues. But the government turns around and gives it a communal-religious colour.

Q/ You have been a vocal opponent of Atique Ahmed even when your party gave him a ticket. However, people are now wondering if you are making statements just to criticise the government.

A/ Atique Ahmed and his brother were criminals with numerous cases against them. How can anyone deny that they were criminals? We were the ones who gave Pooja Pal (wife of Raju Pal, who was killed after defeating Ahmed’s brother in an election) a ticket [in 2022].

There are larger questions here. How is it that Umesh Pal (a witness in the Raju Pal murder) was killed amid police security and that his own security men could not even defend themselves? Those accused of his murder were also in police security and yet could not be saved. What was the need for a medical check-up at 10.30pm? If there was some medical emergency, how is it that the two brothers were walking to the hospital? Why were they handcuffed together? Why was the hospital not informed in advance? How is it that the police security vanished when the shootings took place? Social media has exploded with comments, one of which is that if two criminals were killed, three (the killers) were born.

Q/ Yet the dominant sentiment on social media is that the brothers got what they deserved.

A/ How can this be justice? This is a failure of the system. Will a government conspire to take the help of criminals to control criminals? The government is creating an atmosphere of fear and mistrust. That is how it is playing its politics for 2024.

Q/ Do you ever feel scared for yourself?

A/ I do not. Plus, I am a great believer in the fact that time is most powerful. That is the beauty of democracy. In time and with time, people teach lessons to those who have harassed them.

Q/ Has the balance between the police and the judiciary broken down?

A/ The government’s ploy is to create such weak cases that the judiciary is unable to prosecute them. The police cannot play with the law if the government of the day does not support it. This balance is now completely missing.

Q/ Would you say these killings were a government conspiracy for Atique could have named ministers and politicians?

A/ If you are asking me that question, it means you believe in that. If there are fingers pointed at the lower level of the police force, will the blame not travel upwards, too? This is a chief minister who took back serious criminal cases that were lodged against him and his deputy (Keshav Prasad Maurya). There have been hundreds of encounters in this state since 2017. Many of them are doubtful.

Q/ The state government has issued a list of most wanted mafia-criminals. Is that not an indication of its seriousness to tackle them?

A/ It is a selective list. Will the names of all those with connections to criminals like Atique be on the list? Is this a list not made just on the basis of caste and religion? Will the government also be taking action against those who supply arms and phones in jails?

Q/ Do you think the media has also been complicit in not questioning the government?

A/ The media has its share of the blame. For five years when I was the chief minister, my photo would be displayed every single time there was an incident in the state. The Supreme Court had taken suo motu cognisance of a rape case in Bulandshahr and the government had to respond to summons. Today, does the media ask what happened to the jobs that were promised by this government? How does the media unquestioningly believe that the GDP is growing at 16.2 per cent, that the unemployment rate is just 4.2 per cent?

Q/ With your father Mulayam Singh no longer with you, you now have a free hand to change the perception of the party.

A/ Netaji had always given me the freedom to run the party the way I wanted. His teachings still guide me. That is why when the chief minister used unbecoming language in the house, I did not respond in a similar tone.

Q/ How practically feasible is it to fight elections without help from criminal elements?

A/ We achieved that in a large measure in 2012. I am a staunch believer in the fact that criminalisation in politics has to end. It was my stance of not giving tickets to criminals that led many of them to the BJP, and also made opponents of them.

Q/ Can you do that alone or will you need to ally with other parties?

A/ We will form small alliances. The BJP will be wiped out in 2024. We will do it. We have to do it to save democracy.

Q/ Is there a message you would want to give Yogi Adityanath?

A/ Neither in thought nor in action is this a chief minister who is fair and unbiased. What message can one give to him? Bulldozers do not listen to logic.