Those who are familiar with India’s ‘Wild East’ would not have been surprised at the killing of Vikas Dubey. For several decades, police in the eastern states, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in particular, have found it expedient to execute troublesome ‘criminals’ and gang lords.
A young City SP in Patna had passionately defended his notoriety of being trigger happy by questioning the futility of long trials in court and citing the frustration of watching witnesses turn hostile. Months later when I asked the then Director General of Police, V.P. Jain, if he knew about the trigger-happy officer, he confessed having asked the officer, “how do you manage to sleep”?
My next posting in Lucknow brought me face to face with UP policemen. They seemed better equipped, more organized and professional and as a force, far more ruthless. The sight of police constables cycling on the street with menacing-looking assault rifles slung on their shoulder was unnerving. So were conversations with officers, who nonchalantly narrated the executions that they themselves had ordered or performed.
At the Lucknow branch of The Times of India in those days, the ‘departmental heads’ had lunch together. The working lunch was on the House. And the time was naturally fixed. It helped iron out issues over lunch and take decisions swiftly.
One afternoon as I left my cubicle for lunch, the newsroom, as usual, was deserted barring the crime reporter. He was intently reading a print-out and was oblivious about everything else. It was unusual to find him in the newsroom at lunchtime. Crime beat reporters in Lucknow would generally turn up in the evening, file their copies and loiter around the Pioneer office till early morning, waiting for latest developments and the newspaper copies to arrive at the distribution centre from the Press.
I crept up behind the ‘crime reporter’ on my way out and, oblivious to him, peered into the printout he was reading. It was a report with his byline and as I took the printout from him, I exclaimed how he was filing a report so early. As I began reading the report, he stuttered, “ this is how it will happen, sir. We have been briefed. I thought of keeping it ready…”
Puzzled, I continued to read and was horrified. At 1 pm his report was describing in graphic detail a police encounter that was to take place the same afternoon around 3 pm in Dehradun. Meticulous descriptions of the gangster, his background, the car he was driving and how he had arrived at the school to pick up his son were given. Then followed the dramatic description of how he was accosted by the police (Special Task Force) working on a tip-off, how the gangster opened fire and tried to escape. The chase was also described in great detail and the spot named where the Gangster ‘was’ finally gunned down.
Did this encounter take place yesterday, I asked, though the report mentioned the same day and date we stood talking. “No, sir. This is going to happen this afternoon but I am sure of the details. Got them from the horse’s mouth,” he said with satisfaction.
I put the paper in my pocket and told him that if the encounter did happen that day and followed the script, he too would figure on the front page. “If the police knows so many details about the gangster, what stops them from arresting him,” I asked and left him looking sullen and cross.
Late at night I enquired if any police encounter had been reported. There was none. I summoned the reporter and he sheepishly admitted that he might have been misled by his sources.
For the next few days, I enquired every evening and received the same reply. I would tease him and ask him not to take his sources for granted.
Over 10 days later I was on an official tour to Kanpur. As instructed to the hotel, all the newspapers were delivered to my room early in the morning. All of them carried prominently a report on a police encounter in Dehradun.
The script was a carbon copy of what I had confiscated in the newsroom 10 days earlier—to the last detail.
Two decades later, I still sometimes wonder why the script writers did not change some of the details, which would have been child’s play.
But the Special Task Force of UP Police was efficient, businesslike and ‘professional’. And perhaps they couldn’t resist the temptation of mocking a ‘Patrakar’ who had threatened to unravel the script.