Bengaluru: The city of Bengaluru has had three police commissioners since June 2019, and all of them, including the current chief Kamal Pant, have found themselves mired in controversy over either corruption accusations or allegations of political collusion.
Pant and his predecessors Bhaskar Rao and Alok Kumar have variously been labelled “agents” of the ruling government, or accused of using political influence to lobby for the top post.
In the case of Pant, the opposition Congress has alleged “bias” in the investigations into the Bengaluru riots that took place earlier this month, soon after he took charge on 1 August.
His predecessor, Rao, had been accused of lobbying using an agency to topple his predecessor Alok Kumar, who, in turn, had been accused of tapping the phones of several IPS officers and politicians to keep then-CM H.D. Kumaraswamy informed.
Congress allegations against Pant
When the probe into the 11 August riots found links to the Congress, the party’s Karnataka chief D.K. Shivakumar launched an offensive against Commissioner Pant, alleging that he was being influenced by the ruling BJP’s ministers, and fixing the blame on the Congress.
“These ministers are influencing you to go in a certain direction and fix the Congress. Mr Police Commissioner, we won’t allow this,” Shivakumar said, speaking at an event marking former PM Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary on 20 August.
Shivakumar didn’t take Pant’s name, but using his designation, went on to accuse him of police intelligence failure, and arresting innocent people to inflate numbers.
“Don’t be an agent of the BJP. It is you who did not handle it well,” said the senior leader, also questioning why action has not been taken against BJP MLAs and MPs who have made inflammatory statements in the past.
ThePrint reached Pant through phone calls but he refused to comment on the issue.
Also read: BJP blames radical PFI’s political arm for Bengaluru riots, police say investigation on
Bhaskar Rao — leaked tapes and ‘corruption’
Pant’s predecessor Bhaskar Rao had come under the scanner for an unverified phone conversation between him and a “power broker”, which suggested that he lobbied for the commissioner’s post.
Rao was appointed commissioner by the B.S. Yediyurappa-led BJP government that came to power after Kumaraswamy’s JD(S)-Congress government fell. But even under the previous administration, he had been allegedly vying to take over from Alok Kumar, who had been appointed by Kumaraswamy superseding 18 other senior IPS officers.
Rao also allegedly wanted the high command of the Congress to be informed about Kumar’s “reputation”.
The leaked tapes snowballed into a full-fledged political battle between the BJP and the JD(S).
But Bhaskar Rao was in for more. After the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, there was a heated exchange argument between him and Deputy Chief Minister C.N. Ashwath Narayan, who accused him of taking bribes to allow a few food delivery companies to function during the lockdown.
“You are making things difficult for small shopkeepers, while you give a free pass to big e-commerce players for whatever you have received in return,” Narayan alleged during a meeting of senior officials.
Rao was visibly hurt, according to people who attended the meeting, and offered a teary-eyed resignation to prove his innocence.
“It certainly was unfair. But it is settled now,” Rao told ThePrint.
Also read: Karnataka IPS tapes: ‘Ahmed Patel said I will make him commissioner, Revanna will support’
Alok Kumar — phone tapping, Ponzi scam and CBI probe
Rao’s predecessor Alok Kumar earned the dubious distinction of being the shortest serving police commissioner in Karnataka’s history, with a tenure of just 47 days.
Kumar allegedly authorised the tapping of senior IPS officers and politicians’ phones, on the instructions of then-CM Kumaraswamy. In his defence, Kumar said the police department was intercepting the calls of an agent called Faraz, who was suspected to be involved in a Ponzi scam. He denied allegations that calls of police officers or politicians were being tracked.
However, the leaked tapes of Bhaskar Rao’s purported conversations were also said to be part of the same phone taps authorised by Kumar. Yediyurappa’s government handed over the probe to the CBI after coming to power and appointing Rao as commissioner in Kumar’s place. The CBI later raided Kumar’s house.
Sources in the government told ThePrint that many senior officials in the administration and the police were miffed by the decision to appoint Kumar by superseding 18 senior police officers. The appointment came as a midnight change of guard, just when the multi-crore IMA Ponzi gold scam surfaced.
The timing of Kumar’s appointment also raised eyebrows as he had faced investigations for his alleged links with the kingpin of a lottery scam. He was also suspended from his post of Additional Commissioner of Police (West) during the investigation of the case.
“His appointment was a clear case of using influence to get the seat,” a senior police official had told this reporter at the time.
Since then, Kumar challenged his “premature” transfer to the Central Administrative Tribunal (CAT), but later withdrew the case. Currently, Kumar is posted as Additional Director General of Police, Karnataka State Reserve Police.
Kumar also declined to comment when approached by ThePrint through calls and text messages.
Also read: Karnataka phone-tapping row again disconnects link between Kumaraswamy & Siddaramaiah