Twenty-four hours after his arrest near a temple in Ujjain, Vikas Dubey met an abrupt and dramatic end on Friday at about 6:45 a.m. Dubey, the history-sheeter accused of shooting dead eight policemen in Kanpur’s Bikru village last week, had attempted to escape after the car transporting him back to Kanpur from Madhya Pradesh overturned, the police said. Dubey snatched a policeman’s pistol and shot at those escorting him, they claimed. As he refused to surrender, the police acted in self-defence and shot him dead, they said. Dubey is the sixth and most significant of the accused in the case to be gunned down, but questions remain over the exact sequence of events of the intervening night of July 2 and 3 in Bikru where eight policemen were killed and where Dubey enjoyed notoriety.
A sudden volley of bullets
On that fateful night, police teams of three stations of Kanpur approached Dubey’s house in Bikru, located 40 km from Kanpur, to conduct a raid. Dubey, who already had 60 criminal cases against him, was wanted in a new ‘attempt to murder’ case. According to police accounts, policemen from Chaubeypur, Shivajpur and Bithoor, led by Circle Officer (CO) Devendra Mishra, reached the village around 1 a.m. After parking their vehicles around 200 metres ahead of Dubey’s house, they started walking. They hadn’t been briefed, said Ajay Kashyap, a constable who survived the encounter.
Bikru’s power lines had been snapped, allegedly after a phone call from the Chaubeypur police station. “We had never been to the village. We didn’t know which lane led where,” said Kashyap in a video statement.
Just a few metres in front of Dubey’s house, the cops found an earthmover, unusually parked to block the road. They decided to proceed. They crawled under the machine’s front portion, one at a time. Once they were on the other side, “somebody from our staff pointed a torch at Dubey’s roof and we spotted two people,” Kashyap said.
Led by Station House Officer (SHO) Bithoor Kaushalendra Pratap Singh, Kashyap and constable Ajay Sengar went towards the left side of the house. But seconds later, the entire police unit came under sudden and indiscriminate firing, allegedly even from semi-automatic weapons, from at least three sides. The assailants, whose exact number and weapons remain a mystery, enjoyed vantage points on the roofs of adjoining houses. The police called the incident a “well-planned ambush”.
The policemen, taken by surprise by the sudden volley of bullets, could not see their targets in the dark. “We started taking cover at different places and then fired back. We could not see the targets but they could see us from above. Every time we moved a little, they fired at us,” Kaushalendra said to a news channel from his hospital bed. He and two constables survived bullet injuries. The assailants fired around 20-22 bullets in the first round, injuring most of the cops, he said.
Archana Rajpoot, who lives 40-50 metres ahead of the point where the earthmover was parked, was sleeping on a cot outside her kutcha house that night. She was woken up by the sound of gunshots. She said she did not know what was happening since it was the middle of the night and pitch dark. As Dubey had a reputation for violence and showboating, Archana thought this was yet another episode of the henchmen going berserk or firing to scare someone away. “I could not hear anything except gunshots. So I decided to go back to sleep,” she said. Archana claimed she did not see policemen walk past her, but said she did see them when they were trying to retreat after the ambush.
The tip-off and the shootout
After his arrest, Dayashankar Agnihotri, Dubey’s domestic help of 25 years, told the police that Dubey had received prior information about the raid through a phone call from the local police station. That had given him enough time to set up the ambush.
On Wednesday, the SHO of Chaubeypur, Vinay Tiwari, and beat in-charge K.K Sharma were arrested on charges of tipping off Dubey. The exact nature of the conspiracy is not known.
After receiving the inputs, Dubey summoned his armed associates, numbering 20-30, over phone. He even fired at the police using a gun registered in his domestic help’s name, claimed Agnihotri, who is now in jail for conspiracy, along with his wife.
Locals believe Dubey orchestrated the ambush as he may have thought the police had come to shoot him dead. In the shootout, eight policemen were killed, and six policemen and a civilian injured. SHO Kaushalendra and his two men sought refuge in a trolley and a dilapidated house before escaping through a lane. Constable Sengar was shot twice in his abdomen, but the bleeding officer thought it was his priority to save his colleague’s life. The other policemen took cover near a dilapidated toilet, which still showcases dark blood stains. Five bodies were reportedly found in its proximity.
CO Mishra, who had previously complained to his senior about SHO Vinay Tiwari for protecting Dubey, met a brutal end. After being shot, Mishra reportedly jumped over a brick wall and took cover in a corner of the inner courtyard of a Pandey family residence. But he was spotted by one of the assailants standing on an adjacent roof. The assailant called out to his accomplices. Soon four men jumped over the wall into the courtyard to kill the CO. Mishra was allegedly shot in the head. There was also an attempt to amputate his leg with an axe, said a policeman now stationed in the village. Dried blood stains on the floor mark the spot where Mishra was killed. The locals said the shootout lasted about 30 minutes.
Remnants of a long night
Locals in Bikru recalled the incident only through the loud sounds of gunshots. The episode has brought grief for Sushma Pandey, whose husband Prem Kumar Pandey was gunned down by the police hours after the policemen were killed in the ambush. The police said Pandey was one of the assailants and Dubey’s accomplice. The imperfectly plastered house of the Pandey family is located a few metres from Dubey’s mansion, now demolished.
Her husband died because of “bad karma” on her part, Sushma said. “I did not open the door for them [the policemen] that night. I was scared. Now I have lost my husband. I didn’t even get to see his ashes,” said a bedridden and sobbing Sushma.
At least two injured policemen banged on her door that night, begging to be let in, before they were killed by the assailants. The men were frantically searching for a place to hide outside, she recalled. It was later found that they had tried to hide under a bench and a motorbike parked in the porch. Sushma recounted their desperate pleas with regret. “They cried, ‘Amma humko bachalo. Hamare chote chote bacche hai. Hum aapka kuch nahi karenge (Mother, please save us. We have little kids at home. We won’t harm you)’,” she said. Initially, Sushma hesitated; the firing outside had numbed her. But she gradually mustered courage and tried to crawl towards the door. By then the men had been silenced by a loud burst of firing. An SHO and a constable were later found dead in pools of blood.
Following the bloodbath, Dubey and his men fled the scene. Soon after the incident, the administration exacted small revenge by demolishing Dubey’s house and crushing his vehicles in broad daylight. The official reason was that he could have hidden a huge cache of arms and ammunition in bunkers within the compound. Six illegal country-made pistols, two kilos of explosives, 15 crude bombs, 25 cartridges and bomb-making material were shown as recoveries.
Dubey’s spacious house earlier boasted of CCTV cameras, big white walls and a large courtyard dotted with neem trees. Dubey, his ailing father, Agnihotri, Agnihotri’s wife and their children used to live in the house, which stood out amid the humble, run-down dwellings in the area. On Monday, when this reporter visited the house, Provincial Armed Constabulary personnel were standing on guard at the wreckage. Most locals have fled the village after the incident. Many homes remain locked. Some youths have been picked up for questioning. The power supply in the village has not been restored. The remnants of the terrible night were visible in blood stains on the ground and gunshot holes in the walls.
The Pandey family
Manu Pandey, Sushma Pandey’s daughter-in-law, witnessed some of the firing from the tiny gap of her window, a few yards away. Manu said she had no idea that it was the police who were being attacked. “Unmein se ek aadmi bola,‘encounter’ karne aaya tha (One of those assailants told another that the CO had come to kill Dubey and his men in an ‘encounter’),” said Manu.
In the morning, when they finally opened the door for the police, apart from the bullet marks and blood stains, the Pandey family discovered that a ladder had been put up against their main door, possibly by the assailants to set up positions.
Manu said she was sleeping in her room with her husband Sashikant, who works in a detergent factory, and their two children, aged seven and three, when the firing drew them out. The couple ran out and headed to the adjoining room where Sushma was waiting for her husband Prem Kumar Pandey to return. After retiring from the detergent factory last year, Pandey was supervising the work of the earthmover, often mandated by the Zilla Panchayat member, who is Dubey’s wife, Richa. Pandey was Dubey’s distant maternal uncle.
Sushma said she asked her son Sashikant to flee the scene as she feared he would be arrested without any reason and his clean record would be tarnished. “For 14 years, she did not let his [Dubey] shadow fall on him when he lived in the factory compounds,” Manu said of her husband, as she wept.
Manu and Sushma claimed that Pandey and Sashikant fled the scene out of fear but had nothing to do with the incident. In official records, however, Sashikant is an ‘accused absconding’ and carries a bounty of ₹50,000 on his head. “Please save my husband. What a curse it has been shifting to this house [a year ago],” said Manu, clutching her two kids. She fears the police might shoot dead Sashikant.
Sushma claimed her husband had no role in the violence. But on second thought, she also does not rule it out. “You can ask around, nobody will speak a word against him. Such is the fear against him. He would hang people upside down and thrash them,” said Sushma. “It’s possible that my man was also handed a gun and instructed to shoot at the cops owing to the fear he had of ‘Bhaiyaji,’” she surmised.
In a hushed tone, the family said Dubey intimidated everyone, even those who were related to him. He once threatened to get Sashikant transferred to Jharkhand from the local detergent factory if he did not listen to him, claimed Sushma. Manu said she and her husband had been looking to leave the village and shift to a rented flat in Chaubeypur town because the atmosphere of fear was too much to bear.
‘A criminal mentality’
Vikas Dubey was named in 60 criminal cases in Kanpur, with several linked to murder, attempt to murder, robbery, and charges under the Uttar Pradesh Gangsters and Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act, the police said. After the shootout on July 2-3, the assailants fled with an AK-47, one Insas rifle, a Glock pistol, and two 9mm pistols belonging to the police. The first two are yet to be recovered. So is the CCTV recording of the house.
Dubey’s story highlights the typical nexus between errant policemen, criminals and politicians in Uttar Pradesh’s hinterland. He knew politicians across parties, which earned him both adversaries and guardians.
The shocking murder in 2001 of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Santosh Shukla, who then held the rank of a Minister of State, in a police station in Shivli was among the highlights of his criminal record. According to the Uttar Pradesh Special Task Force, Dubey’s animosity towards Shukla started in the 1990s when Shukla and Harikishan Srivastava became political rivals. Srivastava, Dubey’s mentor, was then with the Bahujan Samaj Party. They competed for the Chaubeypur Assembly seat.
In 1996, after Srivastava, who was later elected Speaker of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly, defeated Shukla, Dubey participated in a victory parade for his mentor. Both sets of supporters clashed and a case was filed against Dubey. This made him hostile towards Shukla and culminated in the BJP leader’s sensational murder. However, Dubey was acquitted in the case after the witnesses, all of them policemen, turned hostile.
Dubey was known to use force and his criminal antecedents to secure votes for candidates, especially in his constituency. But he also allegedly committed crimes to grab land and indulged in extortion. In 2000, he allegedly murdered Siddheshwar Pandey, the manager of a college of which, incidentally, Dubey had been a student. He was convicted in the case but a higher court granted him bail. His name was then linked to the murder of a cable operator, Dinesh Dubey, in 2004.
Lallan Bajpai, Dubey’s long-time political nemesis, said Dubey wanted to grab Pandey’s land. Bajpai, who has been chairperson of the Shivli Nagar Panchayat for 22 years, had known Dubey for years. As a young man, Dubey used to watch movies in the cinema hall run by Bajpai, the only one in town then. Bajpai said Dubey had a “criminal mentality” even when he was a teenager. Dubey faced charges of dacoity, assault and intimidation as far back as 1991-92, according to police records. The two of them were in different camps of the Kanpur political tussle. One day, Dubey allegedly shot at Bajpai’s brother, who was lucky to survive. The animosity eventually led to the murder of Santosh Shukla, whom Bajpai considered his mentor. Bajpai said Dubey had tremendous influence. He had the power to shift 10,000 votes in nearby villages to any party he wanted, he said. “But mind you, that wasn’t because of his popularity, it was because people feared him,” said Bajpai.
Also read | Vikas Dubey’s wife, son arrested
In 2000, Dubey, while he was lodged in jail, allegedly orchestrated the murder of one Ram Babu Yadav in Shivli, in rural Kanpur, through his associates, the police alleged. Then, in October 2017, Dubey was arrested by the Special Task Force in Lucknow in connection with a murder case. Police had accused him of allegedly applying pressure on the complainant and witnesses to submit affidavits in his favour. During questioning, a video of which was widely shared on social media recently, Dubey, then carrying a reward of ₹25,000, disclosed his political links. He mentioned the names of two sitting MLAs, a block pramukh, a zilla panchayat head and several pradhans. The MLAs, however, distanced themselves from him. One of them even said Dubey’s strategy was to show his clout by aligning himself with political leaders of ruling parties.
Recently another attempt to murder case was filed against Dubey. The complaint was filed by one Rahul Tiwari who accused Dubey of assaulting him after he refused to surrender his in-laws’ land to him. It was then that the police decided to raid Dubey’s house.
Tiwari has since gone into hiding. Suman, Tiwari’s mother, said her son was married into a family which has three daughters and an adopted son. The son got married into Dubey’s family in Bikru. The son, empowered by Dubey, wanted to grab all of their six bigha land, while Tiwari was in favour of distributing the land equally among the four, she said. Days before the Bikru ambush, Tiwari was allegedly assaulted by men linked to Dubey, but the police did not file his FIR, said Suman. Then, under the pretext of an “inquiry”, a police team took Tiwari to Bikru village where he was allegedly thrashed, claimed Suman. Dubey had threatened to kill Tiwari if he tilled the land, she said.
‘He helped the poor’
Dubey carried the image of a notorious criminal in Bikru, but locals also recounted tales of how “Panditji”, as he was popularly known owing to his caste, helped families. He would give them money to get their daughters married or for medical treatment and even intervened in disputes, they said.
Dubey had been a Pradhan and a Zilla Panchayat member, posts that are now held by his sister-in-law and wife, respectively. Since he enjoyed political power, he was also able to use his clout to get the poor jobs in factories, said locals. There are several plaques in the village bearing the Dubey family name.
Most locals claimed that they had locked themselves up the night of the shootout and had little knowledge about the incident. When asked about Dubey’s criminal image, Paras, a caste Hindu, who was holding a Hindi language newspaper carrying news about Dubey, said: “What can I say about big people? I never interacted with him much. He never harassed me, so I can’t tell you about what the media is saying.”
Questions on death
Dubey, or “Panditji”, is dead, but the Uttar Pradesh police have vowed not to rest till they bring the remaining accused to justice. Twelve of the accused are still on the run.
Meanwhile, Opposition parties have questioned the manner in which he was killed. The notorious criminal has been eliminated, but did the U.P. police deliver justice to the families of the slain policemen and dismantle the nexus behind the crime?
The question lingers.