Indian state won’t ease crackdown on crime despite Apple manager’s death

FILE PHOTO: Wife of Vivek Tiwari, a sales manager for Apple, is consoled by her relatives after her husband was shot dead by a police constable in the Gomti Nagar neighbourhood of Lucknow, northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India September 29, 2018. To match Insight INDIA-POLICE/KILLINGS. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) – Private security guard Ajit Singh Rana says he supports a police crackdown on gangsters in India’s most populous state, even after cops gunned down an Apple executive at a road stop in what human rights activists say was the latest in a series of extra-judicial killings.

Police have said the shooting was an accident, but are adamant there will be no let-up in the anti-crime campaign, which is popular with many people in India’s most politically important state.

“Goons and criminals have held back the state for years,” said Rana, 31, who guards a river-front park in Uttar Pradesh’s capital Lucknow in the evening and is the supervisor of a group of street cleaners in the morning.

“The government is right in killing them and everyone here appreciates it,” he said.

Uttar Pradesh, in India’s north, is home to 220 million people and sends more lawmakers to the lower house of parliament than any other state.

It is run by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and state Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, a saffron robe-wearing Hindu priest, launched a “zero-tolerance” fight against criminals months after taking office in March last year.

Adityanath’s state government has been boasting about the success of the crackdown and claims it has reduced major crimes significantly.

In the first nine months of this year, reported cases of murder fell 4 percent, rape 8 percent, burglary 11 percent, extortion 35 percent and robbery 40 percent compared with the same period a year earlier, according to a government document reviewed by Reuters.

“This will benefit Modi and Yogi, 100 percent. I will vote for them again, 100 percent,” said Rana.

Rana’s colleague Damodar Singh, 34, said he also approved of the tough stance but added crime won’t end as long as there’s a big jobless problem.

Opposition parties and rights activists say that as farm distress and high unemployment dent the BJP’s popularity in the country, the Adityanath government is playing to the basest fears of the electorate about their safety and security.

An opinion poll by Times Now TV channel in August said Modi’s BJP would see its parliamentary seats from Uttar Pradesh fall to 49 from 73 in 2014. There are 80 seats altogether from the state.

State BJP leaders say they will win more seats than in 2014. Sanjeev Singh, a BJP politician who is now in the state government as an officer on special duty to Adityanath, said “change is visible” to the common man and that should benefit the party politically.

NO BIAS

Ten Hindu voters Reuters spoke with during visits to Lucknow and Shamli, a district near the site of several of the killings, said they backed the clampdown while half a dozen Muslims – who make up just 19 percent of the state’s population – said they felt it was mainly targeting them.

Kumar, an additional director general of police, said there was no bias against any community or caste. He said 22 of the suspected criminals killed were Muslims, while the other 45 were Hindus.

But rights activists say the BJP government is allowing police to take the law into its own hands.

“Evidence points to use of encounters as a means to instill fear in the minds of criminals, and to raise the image of the state government and the police, in the public eye, as being tough on crime and criminals,” said Citizens Against Hate, a civil society alliance, in a report in May.

The report said the alliance had found at least 17 cases of suspected extra-judicial executions, based on interviews with victims’ families and analyses of police complaints and medical reports.

Showing a stamp size photo of his son’s body stitched up from the front after a post-mortem examination, Meer Hasan said he hoped trouble for his family would end with the police killing of the eldest of his nine sons, Furquan.

Hasan, a Muslim, said in an affidavit to a court in western Uttar Pradesh that 37-year-old Furquan was with his cousin and a friend on the evening of Oct. 22 last year when police officers seized and beat them. Furquan, his father told Reuters, had been out on bail in connection with a village land dispute case.

He said the same night they were taken away to a jungle where Furquan was shot dead in a “fake encounter” – a deliberately staged police shootout – while his two companions were wounded in the legs and taken into custody. Hasan said his court statement was based on what his son’s two companions said happened.

Police told the court that Furquan was a “dreaded” criminal with a bounty of 50,000 rupees on his head for offences including rioting, carrying deadly weapons without a license and unlawful assembly.

According to the police version of events, a group of five men on two motorcycles fired at officers when asked to stop at a checkpoint. In the ensuing shootout, two policemen were wounded and Furquan was killed.

In January, the court dismissed Hasan’s petition seeking an investigation into the killing.

Hasan said he would not pursue the case any further.

“Whatever had to happen with Furquan happened,” Hasan, 68, said sitting outside his run-down red brick house in his village in Shamli. “I hope my other boys stay safe. I hope they live.”