Government leaders in northern Uttar Pradesh have held a top-level meeting to discuss the deteriorating law and order situation in the state after a police officer and a student were shot dead by vigilantes.

The National Human Rights Commission will also compile a report on  Monday’s killings in Bulandshahr, which are being probed by a Special Investigative Team (SIT) at the direction of chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht. Police said that cow vigilantes were responsible.

“The SIT will also probe whether the student was killed in police firing or by the mob”, Additional Director General of Police Anand Kumar said. The findings are expected to be released within days. The 20-year-old student who was killed has not yet been named.

There has been criticism of the slow response by Bisht, also the home minister for Uttar Pradesh, who chose to attend the light and sound show at Gorakhpur with Chhattisgarh chief minister Raman Singh as the violence unfolded. The next day he hosted Singh at a program and performed a puja (act of worship) in Gorakshnath temple.

Bisht, popularly known as Yogi Adityanath, also delayed meeting the wife and two children of the slain officer, inspector Subodh Kumar Singh, though he did announce five million rupees of compensation and a government job for kin.

According to initial reports, a group of cow vigilantes blocked the highway and arrived outside the police station in Syana township, Bulandshahr, on Monday morning, demanding that officers take against cow-killers. They had the remains of cows on their tractors.

The mob torched the police station and several vehicles. Senior police officers tried to reason with them, but the violence continued.

Political rivals turn on BJP

“The assailants instead started attacking the police with stones. They chased the official vehicle of inspector Subodh Kumar Singh,” said one  Bulandshahr officer. “He was accompanied by three other cops and driver who somehow escaped, but Singh was gunned down.

“They took away Singh’s service revolver, three mobile phones and video-graphed the incident, which went viral”, the officer said. An autopsy showed that Singh had been killed by a .32 bore pistol (a country-made gun), according to district magistrate Anuj Kumar Jha.

It is believed the mob were protesting against a group of Muslims who held a three-day gathering in a village 45 kilometers away.

Political rivals have seized on the murders and concerns over the deteriorating law and situation to attack Bisht’s Bharatiya Janata  Party (BJP) ahead of the election expected in April or May next year.

Congress party President, Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Cop Subodh Singh’s death by unruly mob in Bulandshahr is shameful and painful. If this is the condition of police under Modi-Yogi raj [rule], then how much horror common public must be in.”

Former chief minister and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati Das also hit out at the BJP, saying: “The BJP is responsible for providing sanction to all kinds of chaos.”

Yogesh Raj of the rightwing group Bajrang Dal has been named as the main suspect behind the killings in one of the two first information reports (FIR) filed in the case. Raj, the district head of the group, lodged the initial complaint of cows being slaughtered.

Rightwing groups get the blame

Bajrang Dal is the youth wing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a Hindu nationalist organisation based on the ideology of Hindutva. The 26 named in the first FIR include members of the BJP youth wing and VHP, while another FIR lists 60 unidentified people. Four people have so far been arrested, but Raj is still at large.

Senior police officers have avoided naming any organizations suspected of being involved in the violence, but activists and some of Bisht’s own colleagues blamed it on various Hindu groups.

“This is a pre-planned conspiracy by VHP, BJP, Bajrang Dal and RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), otherwise why did it happen during a Muslims congregation,” Om Prakash Rajbhar, a cabinet minister in Uttar Pradesh, told Asia Times. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh is the ideological flank of the BJP.

Rajiv Yadav of Rihai Manch, which fights against extrajudicial killings, said: “There is a deliberate attempt by cops at the behest of the government to not name the Hindu outfits because the case would turn from mob lynching to organized crime of cow terrorists.”

However, other BJP leaders, including Surendra Singh, denied any involvement by the rightwing organizations, as did VHP leader Shailendra Jain.

“We condemn Singh’s murder and refute charges of involvement in this,” said Shailendra Jain. “Police were informed about cows being killed in nearby villages for a Muslim congregation but no action was taken. Police implicated us as our members held a protest and had filed the complaint about cow killings.”

But Anil Tiwari, who runs the Lucknow-based news portal UttarPradesh.org, said that “big leaders” were involved, and were trying to influence polls scheduled for Friday in Rajasthan.

Crime levels up, economy down

“How did the other three cops and driver manage to escape unhurt while Singh was gunned down? Big leaders are involved in this case,  which was timed with the congregation of Muslims so that things take  communal turn and help with the polarization in the Rajasthan polls.”

Singh was the first investigating officer in the Dadri case of 2015 in which Akhlaq, a poor Muslim, was lynched on suspicion that he had kept beef at home. “Singh’s prompt action in bringing meat samples to the lab in time established that the meat was not beef,” an officer said. Following that case, Singh was transferred to Varanasi.

Crime levels in the state remain high despite allegations that police have arranged fake “encounter killings”. There were more than 800 riots in the state in 2017, leaving a dozen people dead. On the same day as the Bulandshahr violence, a BJP leader was stabbed to death in Lucknow and a woman died after being set on fire while resisting a  gang-rape in Sitapur.

Eight women are raped every day in Uttar Pradesh, the largest state in India, and crimes against women shot up 24% last year. The state has slipped behind economically as well, and unemployment is rising.

Ironically, restoring law and order was the BJP’s main policy platform in the 2017 state elections. Bisht claims to have broken the link between criminals and politicians that has existed in Uttar Pradesh for decades, leading to a rise in investment in the state.

Bisht seems to have other priorities at present. He renamed the Mughal-era cities of Uttar Pradesh-Allahabad and Faizabad as Prayagraj and Ayodhya and informed voters of five poll-bound states that that BJP has established Ram rajya (Ram is a Hindu mythological god) in all the states where the party rules.

He also warned the voters of Telangana, who vote Friday: “Keep your Ali, I have Bajrangbali (Lord Hanuman the monkey god in Hindu mythology). If we come to power, Hyderabad will be renamed as  Bhagyanagar,” he said.