By Sushil Kutty
That moment when Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf Ahmed were shot dead stays frozen in time. Now, less than a week later, the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a petition seeking an independent inquiry. The petitioner also wants the 183 encounter-killings in Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s time probed. The question arises: could the two “ex-lawmakers” have been saved, their lives spared?
The answer is, the might of the state could have – the UP Police. The courts of the land could have. And that includes the Supreme Court! Atiq and Ashraf were in UP Police custody. And if Yogi’s police hadn’t made a spectacle of taking the brothers in a procession of police, lawyers and media-persons, giving perfect camouflage to the three killers, to mingle and get close to the targets, Atiq and Ashraf would not have been “sitting ducks”.
Atiq and Ashraf could have been saved if the police had applied their minds; if Atiq and Ashraf’s lawyers had applied their minds. The brothers were exposed to danger from the hospital gates to the hospital’s “Emergency” door.
Why were media-persons allowed to close in on the duo who were handcuffed to each other? The risks could not have been magnified more. The Ahmed brothers were killed in police custody. The police security ring, the final frontier, was breached and busted. The inquiry will indicate how far, and to what extent, the police are to blame. Thankfully, the Uttar Pradesh Police does not have a sterling reputation to defend.
Neither does the Uttar Pradesh government. How much of the blame should go to the Yogi regime? The Uttar Pradesh government has instituted a judicial probe. Whatever happens to that probe after the top court’s intervention is a question mark.
Meanwhile, a debate rages over whether Atiq was Robinhood, or common hoodlum? The Supreme Court has no such dilemma. The petition before it branded the killings a threat to democracy, and to rule of law, leading to a “police state”. The police could turn into “daredevils” and generate fear all around.
Did the 183 encounter-killings generate fear? They put the fear of God in gangsters. The fear of getting killed in “fake encounters”. Atiq Ahmed, particularly, was mortified. He believed the UP STF wanted to shift him to a UP jail only so that they got an opportunity to kill him en route in a “fake encounter”.
Atiq took his fear to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court could have saved Atiq and Ashraf. But, as it turned out, the Supreme Court gave the impression of being negligently casual. The gangster-turned-politician turned to the Supreme Court every time he felt cornered with an almost child-like trust in the apex court.
Unfortunately, the top court displayed faith in the UP Police, and the Yogi Adityanath government, more than what was warranted. There is talk that Atiq’s fugitive son Asad’s life could have been spared if the top court had intervened at the right time.
Asad was killed in an encounter in Jhansi. Two weeks after the Supreme Court refused to grant relief to Atiq, who had filed a plea that he feared he would be killed in a “fake encounter”. The top court said the state government would provide him security.
The fact is Atiq Ahmed had little or no faith in the Yogi government and its “security machinery”. Atiq Ahmed knocked on the Supreme Court door because the Uttar Pradesh government was, he said, out to get him, especially after Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had vowed to “Mitti mein mila denge saare mafia”.
Atiq wanted protection for himself and family following the Umesh Pal murder. He challenged the move to take him from Sabarmati jail to a UP jail. He said there was an “open, direct and immediate threat to my life” from the UP government. He asked the top court to direct the Centre to provide him and his family security. And he was proved right. Three Ahmeds killed in quick succession tells the tale.
The Supreme Court could have ordered virtual hearings from Sabarmati Jail? There was a provision. Taking Atiq from Gujarat to Uttar Pradesh by road was fraught with danger for Atiq Ahmed. Atiq wanted his interrogation done in the Sabarmati Jail with the “Gujarat Police or Central police forces/paramilitary forces in attendance.”
Notably, Atiq’s plea was mentioned for urgent listing in the Chief Justice of India’s court. The case was listed for March 17 before a 2-judge bench. But Atiq’s lawyer did not turn up. An adjournment was sought for want of crucial papers and photographs. The court wasn’t pleased.
The case was heard on March 28. Atiq’s lawyer once again sought protection. “There is a threat to my life, a direct and open threat. Your Lordships have to protect me. In the meantime, some protection should be given. Let there be an interrogation, an investigation. Anything. My life is at stake,” he said.
The top court wasn’t moved. “This is not a matter for this court. Go to the High Court. The State machinery will take care of you,” the Supreme Court told Atiq’s counsel. Atiq Ahmed’s counsel chose to withdraw the petition. Now, the Supreme Court will hear a petition that seeks a probe into who all are responsible for Atiq and Ashraf Ahmeds’ murders, disregarding completely the question “who all could have saved Atiq Ahmed’s life when there was still time to save?” (IPA Service)