The real test by fire for politicians always is how they control the police under them. Ambitious and overzealous police officers patronised by the chief ministers and home ministers in states have a tendency to go rogue unless they are kept under a tight leash. Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and Home Minister Anil Deshmukh over-relied on a set of police officials and now both of them are in a political soup due to their once-favourites. Their troubles come from Param Bir Singh, who was recently shunted out as the Mumbai Police Commissioner, as well as from a lower-level police officer Sachin Vaze.
Param Bir Singh had claimed in a letter to Thackeray that Deshmukh had ordered the police to carry out an organised monthly loot from Mumbai businesses!
As the skeletons tumble out of the board for the one-and-a-year-old coalition government, the BJP government at the Centre is trying to fish in troubled waters. The Central government has used the intelligence and investigative agencies, manned by policemen, for political use to the maximum extent. Earlier the Union government relied only on the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to interfere in state affairs, but now it employs central police force to give protection to raiding parties of the Income Tax and Customs departments and uses political intelligence to feed the agencies which have targeted politicians during election time in states.
Ten years ago the country saw a nationwide agitation against corruption led by Maharashtrian Anna Hazare. He had targeted UPA ministers at the Centre as well as the NCP ministers in Maharashtra. The agitation was responsible for fuelling an anti-incumbency wave which later helped bring the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to power at the Centre, Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi and also the BJP-Shiva Sena alliance in Maharashtra after displacing the 15-year-old Congress-NCP coalition government.
Police affairs across states
But the recent sordid revelations over the planting of car bombs outside industrialist Mukesh Ambani's mansion and the corruption allegations by transferred police commissioner Param Bir Singh against Deshmukh are testimonies to the deep nexus of politicians and police. Police officers who were close to the BJP government including the former head of the Maharashtra police intelligence are now leaking more embarrassing recordings exposing the loot and disregard for law. Now it will be the turn of Thackeray loyalists to throw mud at the police favourites of former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Thackeray can take little comfort in the fact that several other chief ministers and home ministers in other states are too under fire for promoting favourite police officials. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath has given a free run to police officials to nab or eliminate goondas in the state and this has resulted in a high number of encounter deaths and complaints of police brutality in the lock-up.
Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's favourite police officers are under fire from the Central government and the latter even ordered compulsory transfer of some IPS officers which was resisted by the feisty Mamata.
The Election Commission has ordered the transfer of maximum number of police officers in the election-bound states as its observers received several complaints. In Karnataka the Crime Branch of the Bangalore city police was over enthusiastic in raiding in a digital channel which aired recordings of the deals allegedly made by B Y Vijayendra, the influential son of Chief Minister B S Yediyurappa. Another son B Y Raghavendra is described as the super home minister, overshadowing the veteran BJP leader Basavaraj Bommai, who holds the home portfolio.
In Kerala too, the Opposition has accused the police of acting as the handmaiden of the chief minister, while there are murmurs in political circles that it is the bureaucrats, including those from the IAS and the IPS, who have dragged Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan to a series of controversies.
In Andhra Pradesh, it is a virtual war between police officers who are loyal to Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy and those who are branded as being close to previous Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu. The eagerness of Reddy to go against Naidu resulted in police registering a case against those close to incoming Chief Justice of India N V Ramana and the former making serious allegations in a letter to outgoing Supreme Court Chief Justice S A Bobde. Now an internal inquiry of the Supreme Court has dismissed the complaints of the chief minister which means the police cases against the relatives and associates of the judge cannot be proceeded with.
The central government and the police
The central government too has its share of controversies involving the police. The choice of a regular CBI Director has been postponed again as PM Narendra Modi is yet to convene a meeting of the high-powered committee which includes himself, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the Leader of the Opposition. A per law, the CBI Director, Enforcement Director and the Central Vigilance Commissioner are chosen by this committee, following the Supreme Court strictures in the Hawala Case in the 1990s.
The CBI is now run by an acting director. Since the days of the United Progressive Alliance government (2004-14), the Opposition representative on the panel have been opposing the government proposal on the nominee, though the Chief Justice has the casting vote. While government sources say the meeting is delayed due to the Parliament session and election campaigns, there are whispers in police circles suggesting that the government is waiting for the retirement of Chief Justice Bobde next month so that a decision on the CBI director can be made when his successor takes office and doubles up as a selection committee member.
In the 1990s, when there were major allegations of criminals having nexus with politicians, the then Minister of State for Home Rajesh Pilot had asked Home Secretary N N Vohra to conduct an inquiry and give a report. The Vohra Report stated the nexus between the two was strong in the country but it also included the bureaucracy, especially the police. The report was not discussed in public domain as Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao declared the report as an internal document which need not be made public in full.
CM Nitish Kumar shows the way, but...
Among chief ministers Nitish Kumar with his long experience knows how to balance the different power centres in Bihar. When he came to power in 2005 he had directed the police chief to take action against criminals who were involved in extortion activities in road and rail construction activities. They were known as 'mahabalis' and could not be touched by the police. The DGP asked what about the strongmen who were supporting the new ruling coalition. Kumar said they also should be picked up tp send a message to the criminals. Soon, there was a thorough clean-up as the chief minister refused to hear the pleas of his ministers and MLAs.
But now Kumar is caught up in a political storm because under pressure from police officers and his aggressive partner BJP, the Bihar Legislative Assembly has passed a new police law, giving more powers to the police, which the Opposition says would be used against political dissent.
Fluid political situation in Maharashtra
The trouble posed by two police officers has snowballed into a political issue that can go out of hand. The fast-changing character of Maharashtra politics now is such that Union Home Minister Amit Shah had a secret meeting with NCP leader Sharad Pawar (denied by NCP but confirmed by Shah) at the home of a Gujarati industrialist a few days ago. As the political situation remains fluid it has to be seen whether the full truth behind the allegations of Param Bir Singh will ever come out.