Illustration by Soham Sen | ThePrint
Text Size:

On the same day that eight policemen were gunned down in Uttar Pradesh, two equally horrific incidents went unnoticed. First, four members of a family were murdered in Allahabad. Then, a 19-year-old Dalit girl and her father were murdered by her stalker, who belongs to the Thakur caste, days before her wedding.

These are not isolated incidents, but part of a larger crime arc that would have been labelled ‘gunda raj’ if they had occurred under the governance of a lower-caste Chief Minister. The Yogi Adityanath government’s brazen touting of encounters, overwhelmingly used against petty criminals who are either Muslim or belong to backward castes, has indeed won it popular approval. But it has also spectacularly failed to curb crime on the ground.

According to the latest available National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, in 2018, the state topped the country in crimes against women (59,445 crimes) — an 7 per cent increase from 2017. It also recorded the highest number of gang rapes and second highest number of rapes (4,323 cases) in the country. Dowry deaths, crimes against children, crimes against senior citizens, all recorded an increase from 2017. 131 elderly people were murdered in 2018, compared to 129 killed in 2017. The state ranked highest in reported murders, 4,324 cases in 2017 — the last year for which NCRB’s disaggregated data is available.

But if you ask an average person in UP whether crime levels have declined, they would probably respond with a resounding yes. They would be factually wrong, as shown above. But to paraphrase American writer Walter Lipmann, the world outside matters less than the picture in our head. And that picture in our head is shaped by the narratives of the media. Moreover, the simpler the narrative, the deeper it is embedded in the mind of the populace.


Also read: Behind a 62-year-old’s murder in UP’s Kasganj is a grouse against women inheriting properties


Media role in perception of crime

The narrative that has been fed for the last three years by the Hindi newspapers and TV channels, which has been largely accepted by the masses, is essentially this: ‘There was gunda raj during the Samajwadi Party rule, where criminals (especially Yadavs and Muslims) were patronised by the ruling government. Yogi Adityanath is autonomous, and separate from such gundas. And his no-holds-barred encounter policy has meant that gangsters have either surrendered, have gone underground, or been driven out of the state.’

There is a large body of research in the US showing that public perceptions of crime are almost wholly shaped by the media. For instance, a prominent paper analysed the ‘big crime scare’ of 1994 in America. Public perceptions of crime as the most important problem (MIP) facing the country jumped tenfold in two years, from 5 per cent in March 1992 to an unprecedented 52 per cent in August 1994. Yet, government data showed that both violent and non-violent crimes had declined in 1994, for the third year in a row. Academics proved that the only factor driving the public perception of a surge in crime was media coverage. The three biggest network — ABC, CBS and NBC — had just expanded their coverage of crime, which had led to the public scare.

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

The framing of crime coverage plays a crucial role. When the Samajwadi Party (SP) was in power, every crime committed was framed as a systematic outcome of government policy, of patronising criminals or ‘gunda raj’. Now, every crime is framed as an isolated incident that has taken place despite the Adityanath government’s policies about police encounters and zero tolerance for criminals. The horrific gangrape of mother and daughter in Bulandshahr crystallised UP’s ‘gunda raj’ image just before the 2017 assembly election. But the reported average of 12 rapes a day under Yogi Adityanth does not merit the same coverage. The actual story of UP’s ‘gundagardi’, of course, is far more complex.


Also read: In Bulandshahr’s Pagona, all loved the ‘extremely amiable’ sadhus killed over a pair of tongs


Mafia Raj

According to Lucia Michelutti, an expert on Mafias in South Asia, Yogi Adityanath represents merely a reconfiguration of the mafia regime. In her book, The Wild East: Criminal Political Economies in South Asia, she explains how under the SP government, the ‘mafia raj’ was “competitive”. Whereas under the Yogi government, the mafia raj is ‘monopolistic’ — a centralised and authoritarian form of racketeering. The political economy remains the same. “The ‘mafia raj’ is still alive and is now camouflaging itself under saffron scarfs. The masquerade allows key players to keep breaking the law and maintain immunity, much in the same manner as the SP supporters did for the previous five years,” Michelutti writes.

The book presents evidence from Michelutti’s fieldwork in Janganpura where “the key Thakur and Jat bosses have now conveniently joined the BJP.” The Adityanath government is also busy packing police station houses with Thakur officers (SHOs), much like the SP had done with Yadav SHOs. “The local criminal/political leadership has remained intact despite the change of power. If anything, under the new Thakur chief minister, Rajput bosses feel emboldened,” Michelutti writes.

The ‘gunda raj’ in UP is, after all, based on an institutional bedrock: the nexus of politics, business and crime. ‘Gunda raj’ is alive in UP because this nexus is very much alive and flourishing. Parties give tickets to ‘winnable’ local elites — businessmen-politicians who dominate the local economy. These businessmen also have criminal records because of the rough business climate of Uttar Pradesh, a weakness of the regulatory State.

Political science professor Gilles Verniers explained why crime seemed to be less controlled under the SP than the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Candidates of the BSP are drawn from the local elites, and depend on the Dalit vote bank of the party for their political position. Hence, BSP chief Mayawati is able to exercise centralised control over them, and discipline them when necessary. The SP candidates are recruited from party representatives who control the local party machinery. Thus, SP leaders are more secure and less amenable to discipline from above, which inflates their sense of impunity.

The BJP represents a hybrid of these two systems. What is clear is that the BJP also draws its candidates from the same pool of businessmen-criminal politicians. In fact, the BJP tops the list of criminal candidates in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, with 37 per cent of its legislators having faced criminal cases. The party’s ability to discipline its strongman politicians is also suspect, as one witnessed in the case of rape-accused BJP leaders Chinmayand and Kuldeep Sengar. The UP Police were restrained from acting against these two Thakur strongmen, until they became a national embarrassment.

The impunity with which the mafias function in the state was laid bare when last month, UP’s sand mafia reportedly murdered a local journalist in Unnao, after he exposed their illegal operations. Days before the killing, the journalist had posted on Facebook that he might be killed by the mafia. In a similar incident in 2018, another journalist in Bisalpur in Pilibhit district was shot at by the mining mafia. The journalist’s brother had alleged that the mining mafia worked in collusion with local MLAs and ministers.

Yet, much like the Modi government has owned the issue of national security despite a poor performance, as I pointed out in a previous article, the Yogi government has owned the issue of law and order despite performing just as poorly. The mechanisms of both are essentially the same — shaping media discourse through buzzwords, symbolic actions (‘surgical strikes’, ‘police encounters’) and uncompromising rhetoric, in the place of any meaningful strategy. This has made both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Aditynath appear to be ‘tough’ leaders in terms of policies on security in the eyes of the public. And in politics, perception is everything.

Views are personal.


Also read: Yogi govt law on intentional infectors: Is criminalising the right way to fight Covid?


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

22 Comments Share Your Views

22 COMMENTS

  1. Haramjade popolulation bhi to badhee hai?? Sale kahin pe % bolta hai kahin pe count bolta hai.. Sala sirf anti Hindu likhana hai tere ko , sab samjah ata hai himain. One thing, crime should be calculated with same state or other state per capita not on absolute term.
    Jaan kahin or apnaa nangapan dikhaan.. sala anti hindu chutiya admi…

  2. Collegium from 1980 was corrupt didnt teach law to citizens, lawyers. Criminal law became criminal protect&rights law corruption law became corrupt protection law. So crime increase people have to uses dons or corrupt justice, cheaper is local don who deliver fast. Courts by of for criminals? Onl Collegium can change for fast fair justice.

  3. i do not understand why u p is not divided , lot other stae has been bifarcated , but no govt though or thinks to do it, it is mainly political , it is difficult ro run such big state and gondaism has grown , earlier bihar was consider as goonda raj, now it is u p . with all due respect to c m he belives in high handedness and do note care for law , what he says and does is low , it is pity that such kind of behavior is also tolerated by b j p as they have political axe to grind, and even opposition is also note demading bifercation as they have also political motive . only god can save people of u p for such highhanded ness.

  4. We must have patience, to wait and watch the end game of U.P goondaraj, under yogi.
    We must not come to the conclusions in one go!
    My point of view is ;; what has become the natural habit until now with many uneducated thugs, in the interiors of U.P will take a time to reach its ultimate conclusion.
    Kanchan Kumar

  5. This comparison would have held water if India was a country and particularly UP a state which has always registered the cases. As long as that remains debatable, there’s no point in inference the data and make prolong thesis. Hence an independent person would believe a rickshaw puller more than an economist. Coz the Rickshaw puller was the one to warn the impacts of demonetization and GST than any economist.
    Thanks

  6. Yeah citing data from 2018 when even 1 year of govt was not complete is completely unbiased reporting.

    Tell about 2020

  7. Some in BJP are pushing this Bhisht who pretends to be a priest, as a future PM. But no amount of PR is going to hide the truth. people who live through it know, and news does leak out. you can fool some of the people some of the time but not all the people all the time…
    great article.

  8. Factually incorrect news is published as neither chinmiyanaand nor senger is from Thakur caste infact both of them is from backward caste and previously both of them were in s.p and Congress party.i live in u.p and I can say it with vouch that crime rate in villages across u.p has been greatly curb especially by reigning muslims cattle thief’s .it appears that writter has no idea about u.p or he is prejudice with hate against yogi govt reasonlessly

  9. This article would have made sense if the author had given all data as a percentage of population. The most populous state is like to have maximum number of criminal cases too, particular if it is a poor state. I can understand his frustration of on why the voting public are not with him. He and his ilk have been trying to figure this out since the days of demonetisation without success. And he still has to convince his paymasters that he can interpret the society.

  10. That indeed is surprising , with encounters and cases being dropped against criminals after being elected at least the official crime rate should have fallen .

  11. ”The Yogi Adityanath government’s brazen touting of encounters, overwhelmingly used against petty criminals who are either Muslim or belong to backward castes, has indeed won it popular approval.” A criminal is a criminal who must be dealt with. It has nothing to do with his religion. The fact that Muslims do more crimes than any other religious group is a fact which happens not only in India, but in every western countries. The author cannot hide his bias against the present government and but he conveniently forgets the real truth.

  12. “.. and people bought it”. I am sure Asim Ali is not one of them. Also for sure Asim Ali hates Adityanath Yogi, the CM of UP. Asim Ali thinks those who elected Yogi are fools and only he and his Yogi haters colleagues at ThePrint are the only intelligent people in India.

  13. Sir, you can have any opinion, but at least have right facts
    1, chinmayanand does not belong to thakur caste.
    2, after taking charge Yogi government had made it a point to register all cases, which was actively discouraged during previous regime.

    • Once one starts hating a person, facts whether fake or real doesn’t matter as long as it can highlight the inner feelings of Asim Ali, the Yogi hater.

    • Chinmayanand’s real name is Krishna Pal Singh and he was born in a Kshatriya family. There have been multiple articles proving this fact in local hindi newspapers like Swatantra Bharat, Jansatta etc.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here