Yogi loses in battle of perception


Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s personal popularity may have soared in the past four years but the Chief Minister has been losing in the battle of perception.

Though his government claims to have improved the law-and-order situation, the perception remains that Uttar Pradesh is being turned into a police state of sorts.

Immediately after assuming office, the Chief Minister had stroked controversy with his ‘encounter policy’ — also known as ‘thoko niti’ — to eliminate organised crime and mafia from the state.

With the nod from the Chief Minister, it is the police force that has gone almost berserk and the common man is bearing the brunt.

The unlimited powers given to the men in Khaki during the pandemic led to a massive surge of cases against common people, traders, vendors, journalists and lawyers.

The police piled up cases without verification.

Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav says, “The chief minister’s ‘thoko niti’ has given a free run to the police force. There is no administrative control and the policemen at the grassroots level are heaping atrocities on the common people. The scenario could not be worse.”

The case of Apple executive Vivek Tiwari, who was shot dead by a constable while he was returning home late at night in September 2018, is an example of this police high handedness.

In a contrasting case, two months later in December 2018, police inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, was killed by cow vigilantes in mob violence in Bulandshahr.

The incidents were perceived as two different dimensions of the government’s policy.

While Vivek’s killing by policemen in Lucknow highlighted the dangers of the encounter policy and letting the police use guns unrestrained, Inspector Subodh’s murder showcased dangers of vigilantism in a communally surcharged polity.

These two cases caused major uproar and dented the image of the BJP as well as the state government.

The Unnao rape case and the murder of the victim’s father in April 2018, in which BJP MLA Kuldeep Sengar was an accused, was also a blot on the image of the Yogi government that had positioned itself on a high moral ground.

The Chief Minister handed over the case to the CBI after the rape victim threatened to immolate herself outside his residence. The dust partially settled on the case with the matter being handed over to the CBI and the arrest of the MLA.

The government faced another embarrassment when former Union Minister and BJP leader Swami Chinmayanand, was accused of raping a law student of his own college.

In both cases, the BJP government faced accusations of shielding the accused.

In July 2019, ten Dalit tribals were massacred in Sonbhadra over a land dispute. The incident led to national outrage and opposition leaders made most of the situation to berate the government.

Months later, in December 2019, a rape victim in Unnao was burnt alive by the rape accused, adding another chapter to the horror story of Uttar Pradesh.

While Sonbhadra massacre exposed how system works against the poor, the Unnao incident was a glaring proof of slow police response in such cases.

In July 2020, the Bikru massacre in which eight policemen were killed by gangster Vikas Dubey and his men in an ambush, opened up a can of worms. It revealed the nexus between a section of policemen and the gangster that led to the incident.

Dubey’s subsequent encounter and the killing of five of his accomplices after the Bikru massacre, was a perfect example of the encounter policy that, again, invited harsh criticism.

The Hathras incident in September 2002 in which a Dalit girl was allegedly gang raped and died a fortnight later due to injuries, also left the nation shocked.

The hurried manner in which the victim’s body was cremated in the dead of the night against her family’s wishes, led to massive uproar.

In all the above-mentioned cases, the officials first tried to hide facts at some point or the other, leaving it to the media to unearth hidden skeletons.

In the Hathras case, for instance, the government denied rape even though the video statement of the victim confirmed sexual assault.

BJP spokesperson Dr. Chandra Mohan, says, “Yogi government has worked according to our election manifesto, which said about zero tolerance against crime and criminals. Criminals do not have a caste and the opposition is trying to gain mileage from false propaganda.”

The biggest drawback of the Yogi government has been its inability to allow access to information.

The Chief Minister, and his officers, have set up roadblocks for the media. Instead of clarifying and giving out facts, officers refuse to respond to phone calls and there is virtually no interaction between the government and the fourth estate.

This has not only fuelled misinformation and widened the divide between the government and the media. The government, in retaliation, piles up cases against media persons who put out ‘uncomfortable information’ further leading to a deterioration in relations.

Officers do not believe that perceptions can be corrected with the help of the media and feel that hugely paid advertisements and hoardings can do a better job.

“This government is spending huge amounts on advertisements which glorify its false claims. The government is living in a world of its own that is far removed from ground reality,” says Congress leader Surendra Rajput.

The Chief Minister, surprisingly, has minimal interaction with the common man and his own party workers complain that they do not get to meet their own leader.

“We are the ones who interact with the people but we can neither convey their problems to the Chief Minister and nor defend the government. It is getting tougher by the day because the bureaucracy has completed isolated the Chief Minister,” said a BJP MLA, who did not wish to be named.