It seems to have become the unspoken consensus among present day state governments to settle certain kinds of crimes through ‘direct’ action. Even the usually vociferous human rights defenders fear to raise the issue owing to strong public support for such behaviour. The encounter that eliminated the four rapist-murderers of a woman veterinary doctor in Telangana, last year, did not evoke anything but celebrations. The Chief Minister, K Chandrashekhar Rao, who was harangued to ‘comment’ on the situation maintained his silence and ‘delivered’ in a manner that ‘satisfied’ the public’s sentiments. At the international level, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte openly declares his ‘encounter’ philosophy and remains comfortably in power.
The same has been the case with the response of the UP police to the killing of eight of their personnel. Vikas Dubey miscalculated if he thought that by surrendering he would escape the fate of his five associates who were similarly eliminated before him. And the list has not been completed yet! Professional criminals the world over make a fetish out of not killing cops, because that usually means certain death. This is what distinguishes them not just from the amateurs but also the political rebels making war upon a nation or state.
Encounter raj becomes the norm in highly stressed societies where the judicial system fails to deliver. While it can be expected that the police force responded in the manner it did, the political establishment has not covered itself in glory if judged by the standards India sets for itself. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath is either complicit or has consciously given a free hand to his police in carrying out these encounters. It might make him more popular in the short term, but reduces his chances of becoming Prime Minister in the future. Opposition politicians, on their part, are more focused on the alleged cover up than the illegality. The likes of Akhilesh Yadav or Priyanka Vadra claim to be concerned about the ‘secrets’ that will now remain unrevealed, rather than the violation of constitutional and human rights. Of course, it is as much a slap on the face of the judiciary, which consistently fails to convict criminals in time, often even in the face of overwhelming evidence. It is also worth noting that those who would otherwise be running to the Supreme Court on such occasions are missing in action (thus far) owing, perhaps, to the social identity of those eliminated.
The pitfalls of ‘encounter raj’ are obvious – the consequences will be devastating in the long term. The police will become unbridled, as the politicians have been complicit in the act. Corruption will increase manifold as ordinary people will be blackmailed with encounter threats by every two bit thanedar. If it catches on, it will lead to a decline in the nation’s democratic and constitutional values, rendering it unfit to stand beside the best in the world.