ALIGARH: Was the police encounter of two suspected criminals last Thursday near Atrauli in this district just another fake encounter or was it a part of a deeper conspiracy with political ramifications?

The two suspected criminals who were killed Mustakeem and Naushad, were petty artisans who worked in a tailoring shop at Atrauli township. They had been picked up from their house in broad daylight four days before the encounter for questioning by the police. According to the Aligarh police, they had escaped from police custody the next day only to meet their end in the above encounter three days later.

There is a growing feeling in the district headquarters here that there is much more in this entire episode than what immediately meets the eye. Chaudhary Bijendra Singh, a senior Congress leader and former Lok Sabha member has emphasised that that only an independent high power enquiry by the Human Rights Commission or other independent groups like People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) can reveal the full ramifications of this entire sequence of events which began six weeks ago.

Six persons, including three Sadhus,were killed in a most mysterious manner in two separate incidents while sleeping inside two different temples in the vicinity of the Atrauli township. In both the cases police could not find any motive behind the killings. Pressure was mounting on the police because Atrauli assembly seat is the family pocket borough of former chief minister Kalyan Singh presently Governor of Rajasthan.

The fact that the two suspects who died in the encounter were members of the Muslim community obviously had wider ramifications . Police said that the two had a criminal history and were responsible for the murder of the six persons .

What was the motive behind the six murders ? There is still no word on this. Barely a day before the encounter the police had arrested five persons from Etah and had given a detailed theorey explaining the motive of these five persons in carrying out the above six persons. One day later the entire narrative had been changed !

It is an undeniable truth that dubious encounter of criminals is nothing new for Uttar Pradesh state. Such extra-judicial killings have been reported in UP since the 1970s and came to light during the emergency.

Ever since then, such instances of "instant justice" have come to light from time to time. These killings have in the past been grudgingly accepted even by some"responsible sections " of society on the grounds that the existing system of dispensation of justice in the courts of law in the country is both “inadequate and slow”.

The media too often looks the other way or frequently supports the police the police for "ridding society" of such criminal elements who they consider a curse on society but who cannot be prosecuted because of the lacunae in the existing legal system.

There is however a critical difference between some of the extra-judicial killings, which have been reported in different parts of state in recent months, and that which occurred in earlier years. According to senior police officials who have served the state in the past, there was an "unwritten code "which was accepted in all such police encounters in the past. Such planned encounters, it is said, had to be sanctioned by the top most state police officers after they were cleared at the highest level of the district police.

Today, however, there are alarming reports emanating from some parts of the state which do suggest that in the present scenario in UP, low level police officials and even politicians could be involved in this so called process for identifying and then liquidating such “vermin” from society. This allegation is difficult to prove but even the possibility of this, however remote it is, is no doubt a source of serious alarm. In other words these so called fake encounters could soon become weapons for settling political scores.

Thursday’s encounter in Aligarh has assumed a menacing dimension by throwing up an entirely new dimension to the ongoing controversy over such dubious methods of crime control. Chaudhary Bijendra Singh today asserted that the fact that the entire encounter was allowed to be filmed by a select group of electronic media persons, clearly suggests that the entire episode was "staged."

Chaudhary Bijendra Singh told this writer, “I have urged all opposition political parties to close their ranks and unveil the truth behind this entire sequence of events”. He said, ‘I see this as a clear cut and well planned attempt to communalize the situation in UP and polarize society for electoral gains”. Herein lies the danger.

Bijendra Singh who is a four time MLA and one time Lok Sabha member from this district said that he was apprising Congress party president, Rahul Gandhi about the ramifications of this entire matter. He said, “I am working in close cooperation with the former city MLA Haji Zamirullah Khan, who is now in the BSP, and some other senior Rashtriya Lok Dal leaders to expose the truth behind this entire episode”.

Bijendra Singh said, “I am determined to reach the bottom of this matter even if I have to pay dearly for this effort”. He said that no one should be allowed to disturb the communal peace in the country, especially at a time when the country is moving for a run up for the next year’s parliamentary polls.

The present Director General of Police of UP, O. P. Singh, carries a reputation of integrity and the mere fact that he has summoned Senior Superintendent of Police of Aligarh, Ajay Sahni to produce conclusive evidence to substantiate his claim that this encounter was genuine indicates that the top brass in the police aware of the likely political fallout of this incident. It, however, remains a moot point whether in today’s highly charged political atmosphere, even an honest cop at the top can make a substantive difference to the situation.

It should be borne in mind that coming in the wake of repeated incidents of lynchings by so called Gaurakshaks in which the role of the law enforcers has come under a cloud, the confidence of the minority community and the Dalits in the police has touched a new low.The Aligarh encounter has therefore further eroded whatever confidence they have of the impartiality of the police force.It is a situation fraught with grim possibilities.