Dubey case: Need for institutional reforms

Vikas Dubey’s encounter has opened up a Pandora’s box and it’s up to the policymakers to seize the moment and make democracy robust.

The encounter of notorious gangster Vikas Dubey while being brought to Kanpur from Madhya Pradesh and the events that transpired thereafter has reignited important discussion which will have far-reaching impact. While nobody denies that the dreaded gangster deserved the fate for his criminal activities for over decades, the manner in which it was done opens a Pandora’s box in a democracy like ours. While the official version is that he was shot when trying to flee after snatching a gun, the masses didn’t seem to believe it. The dominant sentiment still is that it was a planned encounter. Second, social media cheered at the news nevertheless which again doesn’t bode well for a democracy.

While on one hand people reveal their distrust of our institutions by not trusting the official version put out by UP Police, on the other hand they revel on the fact that he was encountered, which puts a question mark over the credibility and the trust the judicial system enjoys. The sum total of the public sentiments only point to a deeper malaise afflicting the whole country and not just UP — the lack of faith in democratic institutions making them rejoice in instant justice. There is no segment which believes the police version.

There is only a small segment which believes the longdrawn criminal justice system had to take its place. We can’t blame the average citizens as a criminal often goes scot-free despite decades of crime and they have observed the justice system fail them. Every time a court acquits a dreaded criminal for “lack of evidence”, as happened numerous times with Vikas Dubey, it’s the trust in the system which our institutions end up losing; the Vikas Dubey incident is an obvious reminder of that.

The Constitution provides for due process to obtain justice and it’s clear that constitutional rights are being overturned by direct police action. In any other country, the hue and cry would have begun for judicial reforms and fast-track courts to ensure justice and a more robust mechanism to ensure hardened criminals are dealt within the purview of law. However, the Indian system and public have got so dismal in hope that bypassing the judicial system with instant action is actively supported by the powers that be. The middle class too supports or at least turns a blind eye to such an act.

Encounters aren’t new and a brief history would make it seem useful. During the Naxalite movement in the 1960s, encounters played a big role in crushing it. The Punjab insurgency aided by Pakistan was dealt with in no small part due to free hand to the police. Mumbai Police is credited with freeing the city from the underworld’s grip with a long-drawn series of encounters. The police officers kept a count of those killed and were often lionised by the media. While the police rose above the exigencies of the moment from time to time and took grave risks to keep criminals at bay, the political system over the decades didn’t rise up to the occasion to deliver on the police and judicial reforms to make encounters unnecessary. In the absence of a robust system, the police took the dirty task to their hands and delivered for which rich credit is due. It’s high time the policymakers like us rise up and question not the individual cases but the system which necessitates action.

As a democracy, the cornerstone of our system is individual rights and freedom and the value of human rights. The state is supposed to be the defender of the rights, while the states themselves aren’t bound by it. The major difference between democracy and anarchy is the monopoly of state on the legitimate use of force. By allowing a system where justice without trial is being meted out, we are putting the whole system, our democratic institutions and our governance model at risk.

An inquiry by a committee of the Supreme Court which seems a likely scenario may deliver on the legal front for this case, but the bigger question of legislative reforms would still persist. Not just the legal question, the question of morality, human rights and trust the democratic institutions evoke in its citizens is of paramount importance. The Vikas Dubey incident has opened up a Pandora’s box and it’s up to the policymakers to seize the moment and make democracy robust.

The writer is BJP spokesperson and former adviser to Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.