Translated into English, the caption sounds somewhat respectable ~ the Northern Province, i.e. Uttar Pradesh. It has the distinction of being the centre of what has been termed as the cow belt of India, returning the largest number of MPs to Parliament. The single province has contributed the largest number of Prime Ministers since Independence.

In the Hindi version though, there is an appropriate variant spoken sometimes in half-jest ~ ‘Ulta Pradesh’. Translated into English, it would be termed as the ‘Topsy-Turvy’ province. The pejorative is applied to describe the way the administration has performed in day-to-day governance, making a mockery of democratic principles and the rule of law.

All the notified ills of the concept of good governance are prominent ~ caste and communal politics, feudal norms of public life, leaders soaked in a narrow provincial outlook, the deepening language chauvinism. The list is endless.

The latest affliction takes the cake, specifically the ongoing descent of UP to a brutal police republic. The State police force ~ never a model entity ~ has been openly licensed to kill by the ruling political executive, elected, so tragically as it seems now, through an overwhelming majority. The message from the masses was loud and clear ~ good governance through civilized democratic norms and the maintenance of law and order. The size of the verdict could not have been bigger.

Prior to the last assembly election, the dispensation was decidedly communal. The state police was reduced to an arm (pun intended) of the then ruling party. As an example, around 80 per cent of the police stations were headed by officers who belonged to the same caste as that of the then Chief Minister.

The implications for the rule of law in the sense of objective and impartial enforcement of law can be well imagined. Caste justice, and a government by people of a particular caste and for those who belonged to that caste was firmly in the saddle.

The present dispensation is headed by an undeniably honest politician who had earlier renounced all material comforts that modern life has to offer. In outward form, he is a Gandhian who practices the Mahatma’s philosophy of renunciation as the highest virtue.

But somewhat abruptly, the comparison ends there. He has, on his election to the highest office, totally renounced the Gandhian philosophy of non-violence in thought, deed and action in favour of violence by the State in maintaining “law and order.”

The Chief Minister has publicly authorized his force to shoot “criminals” at sight. He has authorized the force to arrest and detain ‘romeos’ whenever they show any “affection” in public places for their lady ‘juliets’. As a result, the police have become a law unto themselves.

There have been several hundred “encounters” in the State whereby a large number of “criminals” have been “eliminated” by the police, no questions asked. The police officers at the highest level are, somewhat brazenly, publicly defending the killings.

Recently, there were several questions in the State Assembly on the lawless actions of the State’s supposed law enforcers. The Chief Minister defended his police in undisguised pride, in the name of maintaining law and order.

The Opposition cited several instances of innocent citizens as victims of police brutality, of trigger-happy police staging fake encounters, settling personal scores in the name of law and order, but to no avail. Evidently, the Gandhian attire is just symbolic.

A cruel paradox is emerging. Indians in general learn so little from history. After all, Indian history is a purely British invention. Before British rule, history was not a subject of interest to court scholars and the King’s advisers who were, by and large, content with their learned disputations on matters spiritual. At best, they were content with hagiography of their royal masters and saintly ancestors. History is somewhat alien to our temperament and our mental makeup, steeped as we are in our religious identity if not bigotry.

A similar situation arose in UP in the mid-Seventies when a greenhorn was similarly elected to the highest office. Soon after taking over, he ordered his police force to eliminate the “criminals” all over the state, on the assurance that he would protect them against accusations of lawless action. The result was that hundreds of people, some of whom were accused of petty crimes and even innocent ones, were brutally murdered by the State police.

The civil consequences for the State were disastrous on the law and order front. A paradox emerged, too cruel for words. The kith and kin of the innocent victims, several hundred of them took the law in their hands, and embarked on a career of crime.

They took revenge on the “system” where, they correctly perceived that there was no safety of life and limb of innocents. It spawned hundreds of so-called “dacoits”, in the eyes of the very force that forced them into such dire straits. The state witnessed the ultimate tragedy when the Chief Minister’s brother was killed in what can be termed as a “revenge encounter” by the victims and their families.

The narrative has been graphically described in the report of the First National Police Commission, which was set up by the Government in independent India. All these revelations have a clear ring of truth as it emerged out of the proverbial horse’s mouth ~ the main author of the report was a former State police chief himself. Of course, no police officer was ever called to account, let alone punished for his lawless conduct. No wonder, the State is yet again witnessing an encore.

A former ‘top cop’, who has positioned himself as an ardent advocate of police reforms in India by submitting a dubious affidavit in the Supreme Court, has publicly issued a ‘good conduct’ certificate to the State political executive by endorsing such methods openly.

He can be said to be guilty under the law of abetment. He has argued that this is the (only) way to instill ‘fear’ of law in the mind of the common man ~ to enforce the Constitution by breaking it, according to modern Constitutional jurisprudence, as enunciated by the UP police. As Shakespeare has written, there is something utterly rotten in the state of Denmark.

Those who forget the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them, said the great philosopher, Santayana. Tragically, the worst is yet to come unless the State is put under President’s rule. That appears improbable, as the same political party is in power at the Centre. One can only pray to the Lord to protect the hapless citizens from law-enforcers turned law-breakers.

The author is a retd IAS officer.